Wrestling Mom Rules Podium
Nine-month-old Ella MacDonald is furniture walking around her parents’ St. Catharines home. The adorable toddler is a going concern and her living room ventures are minuscule compared to the travels she has made in her first year.
The daughter of 2004 Olympic wrestler Evan MacDonald and former world wrestling champion Jessie MacDonald has accompanied her parents to several countries this year as her mother continues to rebound from a soul-crushing loss in late 2015 in the 48-kilogram Olympic trials.
“You consider the possibility of losing but you never believe in it because your are there to win and I believed in my ability to win and, quite frankly, go to the Olympics and medal,” the 32-year-old St. Catharines resident said. “It wasn’t just the blow of losing the trials, it was the future that would have come from it.”
The silver lining was after seven years of marriage the couple could focus on its desire to have a baby.
“It was devastating beyond imagination and I literally still have nightmares about it,” she said. “You never get over it but I know Ella would not exist without that failure. I know we don’t always get what we want but we get what we need.”
Ella has given Jessie a different perspective about her wrestling career.
“Before I felt guilty about keep putting off a family because of wrestling and now that she’s around, I kind of feel that I have it all,” she said. “Regardless if I win or lose, I know that life goes on and I know that everything will be OK. Before it was life and death.”
Ella has a positive effect on her mom even when she’s not accompanying her to tournaments.
“There was a couple times I walked on the mat and I was so nervous in the finals. I remember turning on my phone and looking at her picture. No matter what, if I won or lost I was still going home to her.
It has made wrestling a little bit simpler and it relieves stress.
“You go and you do your best,” she said.
Brock coach Marty Calder agrees motherhood has helped MacDonald.
“I think it has allowed her to enjoy the sport more than she did in the past,” he said. “She is more focused now on enjoying the sporting opportunities and taking things one day at a time. It has simplified things.”
Some people speculated Jessie would retire after the Olympic trials, but she kept her options open.
“I felt that there was unfinished business and I had a goal,” the three-time world medalist said. “It’s hard when you’re not satisfied and you’ve done your work.”
During her pregnancy, she continued with off the mat training and the respite from the mat may have been the best thing for her.
After Ella was born Oct. 30, Jessie began to think about returning. Ella was born via caesarian section which meant Jessie had to take longer to heal. By the end of December 2016, she was on the mat carefully working on technique.
She set a target of competing at a tournament in Paris at the end of January and had to plead and cajole her doctor for medical clearance.
It was her first wrestling meet competing at 53 kilograms. Previously she had competed at 48 kilograms because there was no Olympic weight class at 51 kilograms and she felt 53 kilograms was too heavy for her.
“I was nervous and even though I was mentally prepared I thought everyone looked so much bigger,” she said. “I had to get used to the fact that I would be OK at the higher weight.”
In Paris, she lost a close match to a decent wrestler.
“It was another shot to the ego but, at the same time, I had to look where I came from. I had a year off, I had a baby and any woman who has had a pregnancy knows what it’s like to get back into shape, never mind compete at an international level.”
She followed that up with a victory at the Guelph Open and a second-place showing at the Dave Shultz Memorial International in February.
At the Canadian senior national championships In March, she won the 53-kilogram title and was named the meet’s top female wrestler.
“Considering where she was mentally after expecting to go to Rio and be in the medals and then have a baby in the fall, those two things made it unlikely for her to move up a weight and win,” Calder said.
From the Canadian championships it was all onward and upward. She captured gold medals at the Pan American championships in Brazil in May, the German Grand Prix in June and the Spanish Grand Prix in July.
“Jessie’s rise to the top is nothing short of a miracle considering the year she’s had,” Calder said. “Her pursuit of excellence is second to none.”
MacDonald hasn’t met up with everybody in her weight class but she has been beating top competitors.
“I’ve been doing well and at this point I am starting to be more like myself. I think the weight up has been a good thing.
“I’m not focused on a number and I’m not killing myself in a sauna and sweating. I’m eating healthy, lifting (weights) as heavy as I can and I weigh what I weigh.”
Her original goal was to win nationals and go to the world championships but the end game has now evolved.
“I’m not saying how I do (at the worlds) will determine whether I stick around or not. At this point in the game, it’s about enjoying it and I am enjoying it. If I stop enjoying it, that’s when I’ll say that I am done.”
MacDonald entered the world championships Aug. 21-26 in Paris as a legitimate contender.
“I believe she is a threat at 53 kilograms just as she was at 48,” Calder said.