A two-time Olympian spoke to Vancouver island students last week, sharing her story of perseverance and encouraging them to get all the benefits out of sports that they can.
“What I cherish most about sport isn’t the competitions,” said wrestler Danielle Lappage, who represented Canada at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
“It’s not the medals; it’s who I’ve become. I became a much better person. I’m more empathetic. I’ve been able to gain a family through my teammates and coaches. Wrestling has allowed me to travel the world. I’ve been to 30 countries, and before I started wrestling, I’d only been to Alberta and B.C. It gave me an education. I have three degrees. I have three siblings, and none of them have a degree.”
Lappage, who recently moved to Victoria to do her apprenticeship with a law firm, spoke to students at Duncan’s Queen Margaret’s School and members of the Cowichan Valley Wrestling Club on Friday, Oct. 8.
She reached out to CVWC head coach Nick Zuback to see if there was anything she could do for the club. He immediately invited her to speak to the athletes, and demonstrate a few wrestling moves on him afterward.
Zuback and the CVWC have produced several outstanding wrestlers in a short time, and their reputations weren’t lost on Lappage.
“I don’t think you know how lucky you are to have a wrestling team, especially such a successful team, and a great coach,” she commented.
Lappage talked about growing up in the small town of Olds, Alberta, where she tried every sport available, latching on to wrestling during the brief time it was offered at her middle school. She won a lot of matches because of her natural strength, she recalled, even if her technique was lacking, and the sport opened a lot of doors for her.
“My early success got me hooked,” Lappage said.
A two-time national champion in high school, Lappage earned a scholarship to wrestle at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, something she had always dreamed of.
“Those five years at Simon Fraser were the best five years I could have imagined,” Lappage said. “If you get the opportunity to go to university, more specifically to do sports in university, I encourage you to do that.”
In 2014, Lappage won her class at the Commonwealth Games and at the world university championships, and finished eighth at the senior worlds. Then she tore her ACL, an injury that takes a year to return from. The Olympic trials were scheduled for one year and one week after her surgery date, and she managed to come back and qualify for the 2016 Games.
At the Olympics, Lappage felt pain in her upper leg while warming up for her first Olympic match and had to withdraw from the match.
“As you can imagine, that was devastating to me,” Lappage said. “I had seen the 2016 Olympics as my moment since I was little. I had done everything to prepare for it and it just didn’t happen for me.”
That injury turned out to be a ruptured hamstring, and she came back from that for what she considers her “third life” in the sport. In 2018 she took silver at the senior world championships, and in 2019 she won the Canadian qualifier for the 2020 Olympics. In March 2020 she locked up her place in Tokyo with a win at the Pan Am qualifiers. A week later, Canada announced it wouldn’t be sending a team to Japan because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a week after that, the International Olympic Committee postponed the Games for an entire year.
Lappage was able to continue to focus on the rescheduled Olympics. She tore her opposite ACL while training, but was able to recover from that in time to go to Tokyo for August 2021. Lappage lost her first match in Tokyo against a wrestler from the Russian Olympic Committee and ended up out of the medals.
“When I reflect on that, the result was disappointing,” Lappage admitted. “All the girls [in the category] were girls I had beaten previously. But to be honest, I am really proud of the fact that I went there and competed and made the most of it.”
Although the 2020 Olympics probably marked the end of her competitive career, Lappage knows a thing or two about getting back into action after experiencing disappointment, and she told the athletes in her audience to do the same.
“I hope you guys take it as far as you can and don’t give up,” she said. “Enjoy every moment; soak it up; make the most of every opportunity you’re given.
“You have to know how to continue to get up, be resilient and keep chasing it if you really want to keep chasing it, and incredible things are going to happen.”