In 648 BCE, Pankration was introduced at the Greek Olympic Games. This ancestor to modern wrestling soon became much more than sport, and was adopted into the armies of the city-states.
Certainly the 300 Spartans who fought at Thermopylae nearly 200 years later were fairly well versed in its ways. Its influence is apparent in modern Greco-roman and freestyle wrestling.
Now the tradition is taking root at St. Thomas, where a handful of students have begun meeting to learn the latter.
The group is being coached by Jeff Allen and Terry Pomeroy, two men who have followed wrestling for most of their lives. Both competed for the University of New Brunswick in the 1990s, and will likely be coaching at the next Canada Games.
They both say these first few weeks are only tentative baby steps.
“Right now we have to take things slowly, and let this develop naturally,” Allen said. “It’s important we build a strong base of talent.”
That means right now recruitment is a very high priority. The team is not in any way exclusive – high school students are welcome and women practice alongside men.
For those who train with Krista Betts, this can be a sobering reality. The diminutive 22-year-old, also a UNB graduate, has been wrestling for over a decade, and is helping Allen and Pomeroy with the training.
“A lot of the guys, when we do drills, you can see they’re impressed that a woman can do this sport and be good at it,” she said.
And Betts is good at it.
Just last week she won silver at a tournament in Puerto Rico. She says gender isn’t an issue at all, with two women on the team so far and four more expected once the rugby season ends. According to Betts, wrestling is a solitary sport, as much a mental battle and a physical one, and the opponent is almost a secondary concern.
“At the end of the day, when I walk off the mat, it’s just me,” Betts said, “and I know that I get out what I put in. Wrestling puts you in control of your own destiny.”
Whatever misconceptions there are surrounding wrestling, it is in no way as violent as many believe. No doubt this illusion feeds off a culture of fake WWE and very real UFC. Football and hockey both have higher rates of injury, (while cheerleading beats all three).
And unlike a sport like rugby, whose season is done seemingly before it begins, wrestling goes on almost eternally.
The team’s first competition is the Oct. 30 when they travel to Montreal for a tournament hosted by Concordia University. Their last tournament could be as far away as April.
The two-hour practices are held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
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