Connor Church

July 6, 2022

Métis wrestler looks to leave his mark on international competition

Métis wrestler Connor Church is competing at the U20 Pan American Championship in Oaxtepec, Mexico, from July 8-10.

Connor Church is fresh off winning a national gold medal in wrestling and is looking to jump to the next level.

The 19-year-old Red River Métis from Winnipeg is one of 20 Canadians competing at the U20 Pan American Championship in Oaxtepec, Mexico, from July 8-10.

For Church, combat sports have been a huge part of his upbringing, which he attributes to his father.

"He put me in (different classes) right since I was a little kid, and then I grew up and did a bit of hockey, but as I got older and older, I started excelling at boxing and wrestling," he said. "And then, that competitive nature came over me. You keep winning, and I really like(d) this feeling, and I wanted to keep getting more of this, and I ended up just switching and solely doing combat sports."

Church vividly remembers attending Manitoba Métis Federation Road to Gold sports camps, which also helped him gain a passion for wrestling.

"They built confidence, and they get you into the sport. (Those camps) were a great way to meet people, have fun, get a good workout in, and stay fit," he said. "I want to say, part of the things that keep you in the sport are those Road to Gold camps I did when I was younger."

Church stands on the podium with his medal at the 2022 Canadian Wrestling Trials in Edmonton.

In May, Church participated in the 2022 Canadian National Wrestling Trials in Edmonton and competed in the Junior Freestyle 79 kg category. Church admitted he had no idea what to expect.

"I had only been to one national (tournament) before because of injuries and COVID, and that was when I was 13. So, anyone who knows me knows that my goal for the longest time was to win a national championship, but I've been kept out," the wrestler said. "I had no idea what the competition was like and how I'd stack up against other kids in Canada."

Church flew to Edmonton a few days before the event to fit in some practice and acclimate to the time change. He said the most nerve-wracking part of his experience was the weigh-in process.

"Every wrestler competing was cramped in one little basement of this hotel and are half-naked in our singlets, dehydrated and hungry. Everyone was dead-faced, looking to weigh in, get out of there, and eat as soon as possible," he said. "I made weight, so it was no big deal. I didn't have to cut any weight at all. So it was a breeze."

After weigh-ins, Church was eager to compete in the tournament but had one last priority before starting - seeing his family.

"My dad, my little brother, and my grandma were there, so that was a big moment, being able to see them for the first time in months," he said. "I moved away to Montreal, so now I never get to see them. It was important for me to have my dad there, my little brother, and my grandma too. It was a big deal for me."

The 2022 Canadian National Wrestling Trials were Church's first time competing in the Junior category, and he knew he would be wrestling older, bigger kids.

"The wrestling itself was honestly a breeze. I 10-pointed everyone 10-0, so it went smoothly, exactly according to the game plan, and (the wrestling) couldn't have gone better," said Church. "In wrestling, the rule is: if there's a 10-point spread, the match is over. So, if it's 10-0, 12-2, or 14-4, the match is over. You win by technical superiority."

After breezing through the round-robin, Church faced Jai Sodhi of GTA Alliance Wrestling Club for the gold medal.

"My match only lasted one minute. It was one takedown. I turned (my opponent), and it was over," he said. "Then, I got up, and it was crazy. I didn't even realize what had just happened. I was like, 'wow, I just won.'"


Church is congratulated by his coach during a wrestling tournament.

Church remembers the referee raising his hand in victory, then going over to his coach, Dave Zilberman, who gave him a big hug, and Victor Zilberman, his other coach, offered words of encouragement.

"(He told me), 'You work(ed) hard for this all year, and this is what happens when athletes work hard. You really deserve this,'" Church recalled. "(When I looked up), it (was) all my teammates, my dad, my grandma, my little brother, and all my friends. Everyone was there, and they were screaming, cheering me on. It was a crazy moment that I think I'll cherish for the rest of my life."

With nationals in the rear-view mirror, Church now shifts his focus to the U20 Pan American Championship, which includes wrestlers from the United States, Brazil, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and many other countries competing for the gold. He's been training hard for this moment and admitted it took a while for his new reality to set in.

"After I got home for three, four days, that switch in my head just turned. Now, it's like I'm not going to be happy if I do anything besides go and win that tournament," he exclaimed. "I've doubled down on training, and everything is going good. It's just that competitive edge of me. I need to go and win that tournament."

While not training for wrestling with the Montreal Wrestling Club, Church studies business management at Concordia University. He is also a part of the Concordia Stingers wrestling team.

Not only will the Métis wrestler look to medal at the U20 Pan American Championships, he will also be vying for a spot at the U20 World Championships this August in Sofia, Bulgaria.

All in all, Church has one focus for this upcoming tournament.

"If I win that gold medal, I'd love to run around the wrestling mat with the massive Métis flag on my shoulders," said Church. "That's a dream of mine, and I feel like it's going to come true in July, coming up in Mexico."

 


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