The Long Road to Paris

Story by Matthew St. Amand 
Photographer by Justin Hoch

Most people would not be able to stand the central premise of freestyle wrestling: countless hours training, an unending procession of matches, years of dedication—all for six minutes of all-or-nothing competition. Dreams are made or dashed in three hundred sixty seconds. That is the road to the ultimate goal: the Olympics. 

On the second weekend in May, Essex County wrestler, Linda Morais, entered the competition circle intent on making her dream of qualifying for the Olympics come true. She was in Istanbul, Türkiye for the final World Olympic Qualifier and had already competed in five matches over the course of two days. All that stood between her and her dream was Alexandra Anghel of Romania. There were only sixteen spots in the 68-kilogram weight class going to the Olympics. Fifteen of those were already secured. Numerous countries vied for the final remaining slot. 

Six minutes later, Linda prevailed in the match 4-3, winning a bronze medal in her weight class and securing her place on Team Canada.

“The competition was stiff,” she says, back home in Windsor on a break. “The two wrestlers I fought were World bronze medalists.”

How does it feel to know she is going to the Paris Olympics?

“I’m very excited!” Linda says. “This is another chance to represent my country and to wear that Maple Leaf on my singlet!”

Although she believes in her ability, Linda went to Istanbul knowing one thing about her competition: “They were very tough women!”

It all came down to her mindset. During that match against her Romanian opponent, Linda had a winning mindset and took the match.

There is no minimizing the mental aspect of the sport, where competitors are all reasonably equal in strength, well-versed in technique, quick and agile. It often comes down to who is mentally tougher that determines the winner of those six minutes in the circle.

At age thirty, Linda is just hitting her prime.

“Internationally, thirty years of age is considered old,” Linda says, “but in Canada women peak at this time. We’ve had three national team athletes who were moms and had success internationally!”

Istanbul is a long way from École Secondaire L’Essor where Linda first discovered wrestling. Actually, it was her father, Dean, who discovered it for her.

“I was in grade eight and was at an open house at L’Essor with my dad,” Linda remembers. “He saw the wrestling room. He didn’t know it was a women’s sport. He ran and found me, brought me over to the room. He knew I was a strong girl and thought I should give it a try. He introduced me to the coach, David Tremblay. A week or two later, there was an announcement in my grade school saying we could be a part of the after-school wrestling program at L’Essor. I went out for it.”

It is a testament to Linda’s time-management skills at such a young age that her father thought she could also handle wrestling. During that time, Linda had made it a stated goal to be a part of every sports team at school: basketball, volleyball, track and field, cross country, badminton, soccer. And then wrestling. She loved it from the start, though she found over time, the sport does not always love an athlete in return.

“When I first started, wrestling was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Linda says. “In the early stages, we played games like Dodge Ball, British Bulldog and other team-building activities to toughen us up.”

Success came early for Linda. 

“I made the national team when I was in grade nine,” she says. “I didn’t expect it. I tried it and ended up winning nationals. I went to the Pan American Championship in El Salvador. That was my first international trip. I won my first cadet PanAm.” 

All through high school, Linda won matches. In grade ten, she went to the Canada Summer Games where she won gold.

Early success did not mean continued success. 

  “I hit a roadblock when I moved from cadets—grade nine to eleven—and entered juniors—grade twelve to second year of university,” Linda explains. “That’s when it got really tough. That’s when I was going to university in Montreal. If it weren’t for my support system—particularly Mr. Tremblay—I’m unsure if I would have continued with the sport. But I always had someone in my corner, someone saying to me: ‘Give it one more year! Give it one more tournament!’ Each jump in division was a difficult adjustment!”

Another setback occurred in 2016, when Linda missed out on a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. That year, she came close and lost to Canadian Michelle Fazzari. Four years later, in 2020, she was coming off winning the world title in her weight class, but experienced another wrenching defeat that placed those Olympic games out of reach. 

She credits coaches Martine Dugrenier and David Zilberman for keeping her positive and motivated during this time. 

With grit and determination, Linda continued competing. Now, with her place on Team Canada secured, she is circumspect about what it took to get here: “In wrestling, at least, it takes time to see success. Some athletes get discouraged early on. Wrestling is a tough sport in more ways than one! You need time to develop speed, strength and agility before the success will come. The technical part is huge. It takes years to develop that. One quote I often think of that keeps me going is: ‘Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.’ You have to stay with it. I’m glad I did!”

Linda is particularly thankful to her coaches at the Montreal Wrestling Club. She is also very grateful for the support of George and Eleanor Renitz whose sponsorship has been invaluable to many wrestlers.

“Their support has made a huge difference,” she says. “Without them I couldn’t have traveled as much as I did and gained all that necessary experience!”

All that remains now is for everyone at home to cheer Linda on this summer as she competes in Paris. 

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