If there’s only one thing that Stittsville native Erica Wiebe wants people to take away from her career, it’s to live with purpose.
Though the beginnings of your career as an Olympic Champion and one of the highest-paid Canadian professional wrestlers was anything but intentional. Wiebe signed up (on behalf of both her and her best friend) for Co-ed wrestling in Grade 9 because she thought the sport was ‘funny, weird, different’… not because she ever thought that she would make a career out of it. But now, 33-year-old Wiebe has over a decade of accomplishments under her belt, including becoming the 2nd Canadian woman to win Gold in Olympic 75kg freestyle, becoming the Captain of the Mumbai Maharathi in the Indian Pro League, and recently, winning a gold medal in the 76 kg event at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series 2021 held in Rome, Italy. She also won one of the bronze medals in her event at the 2021 Poland Open held in Warsaw, Poland.
We sat down with Erika to discuss her career highlights, her favourite spots in Ottawa, and what’s next.
How was your childhood and early years growing up in Stitsville?
Growing up in Stittsville, I lived a very fulfilled and active childhood. I walked or biked to school every day and spent a lot of time outdoors. I played a lot of sports growing up but mainly focused on soccer.
How did you become interested in wrestling?
We did it in grade 7/8 during class but there was no girls wrestling team at the time. It was very fun and very different than anything I had ever tried! So in grade 9, when the sign went up for high school co-ed wrestling practice, I recruited my best friend to come out and join the team with me. We were the only girls but we loved it. Well I loved it. She stuck it out for me. And the following year, I was hooked and joined a local wrestling club and was the only girl on the high school wrestling team. I instantly loved the physicality, intensity, and strategy that was involved in the sport. I felt so empowered in my body.
What has been your biggest motivation in pursuing this career path?
My motivation has always been to chase the next goal. My mantra after every tournament, win or lose was always “onward & upward” and this sense of competitive fire was also built on a foundation of a deep sense of joy I felt through doing the sport and doing it alongside my teammates.
What do you think are the most important qualities for being successful in this sport?
Wrestling is a unique sport that requires physical relative and absolute strength, agility, aerobic conditioning, tactics, and technique, and then you have to bring it all together and find a way to win in one on one combat against your opponent. Mentally, among many other things it requires the discipline to commit to a rigid training lifestyle, the intestinal fortitude to consistently put it all on the line, and the belief in oneself that you can overcome seemingly impossible challenges. It takes a lot to be successful in wrestling; but I think above all else the desire to want to do it and the capacity to endure the training and evolve to become better has been the differentiating factor for me.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a female wrestler?
Wrestling in itself is a very difficult sport but on top of that, there has always been challenges being in a sport that has been traditionally male dominated. I think in some environments, fighting for your place in the training room or with your wrestling partners has been the biggest on-going hurdle. It gets better every day but there’s also so much more we need to do.
How did you prepare physically and mentally before a match? Do you have any pre-match rituals?
I had a very well structured routine before matches depending on if I needed to dial the intensity and physiological preparedness up or down. This included some nervous system activations, sport visualizations, and self talk. Getting the body physically ready to compete is one thing but getting the mind ready to fight is another! Ultimately, when it comes to performance you have to show up regardless of how you feel. I always enjoyed the process of going out there and finding a way to win.
How do you balance the physical demands of wrestling with taking care of your body and preventing injuries?
The hardest part of doing anything incredibly challenging, is finding a way through the mundaneness, through the hard days, through the loneliness, through the pain. The hardest part is finding a way to do it with a smile on your face. If you can’t find a way to smile through the darkest moments, it will feel impossible. It will be impossible. It will not be worth it. Make it worth it because life is too short not to be enjoying what you’re doing.
What has been your most memorable moment or match in your wrestling career so far?
One of the most memorable matches in my career was in the summer of 2013 where I beat the defending Olympic Champion. It was 3 years before I competed at the Olympics and it was a big signal for me that I could really be something in this sport. I went into the match telling myself to just get after it and compete in every position.
What adjustments have you had to make in your training regimen to prepare for the Rio and Tokyo Olympics?
Preparing for both Olympics could not have been more different! I thought preparing for Tokyo as defending Olympic Champion was going to be challenging, but trying to do that in the midst of a global pandemic with the entire world shut down was almost impossible.
Going into Rio Olympics, we flew in training partners from all around Canada and the world – like Japan and Moldova – so that I would have different wrestling styles to be challenged by and going into Tokyo that wasn’t possible.
You represented Ottawa and Canada at a global level. How would you describe the city to someone who has never heard of it?
Ottawa is the nation’s capital with a vibrancy that brings together the best of Canada. The best time of year is the crisp Fall afternoons with astounding colours. When I moved away to Calgary in the Fall to live and train fulltime, by the end of November I felt like something was missing and it was the absence of the Fall colours. Canada is so diverse, open, and welcoming and I am always so proud to wear the maple leaf.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing wrestling as a career?
I encourage anyone to always try something just a bit beyond their comfort zone. I started wrestling because I thought it was a funny weird sport and wanted to wrestle with boys, not realizing how much I would fall in love with the sport. So, take the leap and try something beyond your wildest imagination and I think you will surprise yourself.
What’s your favourite place to eat in Ottawa?
Shawarma!!! Downtown. Nobody does shawarma like Ottawa shawarma. Extra garlic.
What’s next for you?
I know my impact off the mat will be even greater than my success on and I’m excited to explore that. Living a life on purpose.