by Derek Cassoff
Some athletes spend their entire lives devoted to a single sport, working from a young age to perfect their skills in a quest to win fame and fortune. Not Tamara Medwidsky.
The Concordia student was working out at a fitness centre in her native Toronto when Rick MacNeil, head coach of the University of Toronto wrestling team, asked her if she would like to try out for the school's varsity squad.
"He asked me if I would at least come out to watch a few practices Medwidsky said. "At that point, I was looking for something to do. It happened to be wrestling, but it could have been anything."
Medwidsky made the right choice. Just two years after hitting a wrestling mat for the first time, she has already captured both the Canadian university championship and the senior national title in the 75-kilogram weight class.
She is in Poland this week, representing Canada at the World Championships of Female Wrestling. Those who have trained with her say she could finish in the top five.
"In just two years, she has become a world-class talent," says MacNeil, who moved to Concordia a year ago to become an assistant wrestling coach with the Stingers. "To just pick up a sport at her age and have the success that she has had is almost unheard of."
Medwidsky, now 23, was in her graduating year at the University of Toronto when she began learning wrestling's basic moves and techniques. She fell in love with the sport and, within two months, had won her first tournament.
But despite the ease with which she seems to have adopted her new sport, it was only through hard work and persistence that she was able to progress beyond the ranks of a novice.
"Once you have had the moves explained to you, it's a question of practice, practice and more practice," she said. "I think back to some mornings, getting up for an 8 o'clock practice when it was cold and there was three feet of snow on the ground."
"She trains harder than anyone else in the club," MacNeil said. "Any program that I give her, from weights to conditioning, she follows to a T."
Medwidsky enrolled at Concordia last January, in part to complete a Graduate Diploma in Sports Administration and to stay close to MacNeil's coaching. The move has also enabled her to train with Victor Zilberman, the Stingers head wrestling coach and, arguably, the dean of wrestling in Canada.
"It's a totally different environment," Medwidsky said of the Stingers, who train alongside members of the Montreal Wrestling Club. "Back in Toronto, the clubs are small, so it's hard to get a good training schedule going. Here, the people have so much experience that you learn a lot in a short time."
While women's wrestling is growing quickly in Ontario and the western provinces, the sport is still in its embryonic stage here in Quebec. As a result, Medwidsky spends much of her training time competing against men.
"Most of the guys are stronger, so it's good practice to train with them," she says. "But women tend to wrestle a little differently. They're flexible in different areas, so a move that I can use on a guy may not work as well against a woman."