Working hard to make your place: Wrestler Erica Wiebe’s advice to youth

Erica Wiebe knows how it feels to doubt and question yourself. Being female in a traditionally male-dominated sport comes with several challenges, and women often have to fight to be respected or valued at a competitive level. In some countries, where traditional gender roles are systematically reinforced, deviating from societal norms is seen as an act of rebellion.

Erica Wiebe

In Canada, Erica Wiebe’s journey to gold teaches us that stepping out of our comfort zones and connecting with people that support your passions is how to start believing in yourself.

Life in a man’s world 

Erica Wiebe had not even heard of ‘co-ed’ wrestling before her ninth grade of high school, but after her first taste, she was hooked. Her love for the sport inspired her to move to Calgary, where there is a strong legacy of women’s wrestling. Living alone in a new city at a young age was daunting, but Wiebe believes in finding what “ignites your soul” and moving towards it fearlessly, because facing fears is the way to overcome them.

However, like many women before her, Erica Wiebe’s journey to the top was not easy. Society continues to create stereotypes for young girls that can negatively impact their self-confidence going into adult life and the discouragement of female participation in certain sports is still an issue, as it was for Wiebe. She remembers being told that she didn’t look “like a wrestler” and reflects on naive comments that knocked her confidence such as, “Do women wrestle too?!” Her advice to women in the same situation is to remain focused on the goal, but she admits to not always feeling 100%. On difficult days, when Wiebe is exhausted or injured, and blood is flowing from her body, it could be easy to feel like giving up. But she has learnt that getting up and giving your best are the first steps to success - then it’s important to know that you’re not expected to go it alone.

The history of women’s sport is a lesson in resilience
Leaning into others 

Erica Wiebe explains that wrestling may appear to be an individual sport, but it is impossible to succeed in it alone. Players practice in teams every day and coaches support them every step of the way - they inspire each other to reach their potential. However, she also says that some of the most important support systems in her career have been the friends and family who are part of her daily life; the people who don’t care about her wins and losses. Wiebe encourages people to keep company that supports you in your passions, “whatever they may be”, and pushes you to fly higher. 

You go on that mat alone but there’s a whole village supporting you behind the scenes

She feels her hard work finally came to fruition when she won gold in the 75-kg freestyle category at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In her view, big achievements are a result of years of dedication and practice invested in them - this takes patience and hard work. But Erica Wiebe’s motivation comes from inspiring young women to feel confident and powerful through the physical and communal power of wrestling. 

I want them to see me and never question their place in or love for this sport.

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Building strong women

Erica Wiebe considers role models to be very important and dedicates her time to coaching young people in the physical and mental aspects of wrestling. She finds that the best part is when these girls feel “10 ft tall”, confident and can express themselves fearlessly - the best gift they can get is to understand the value of their unique personalities. 

But on top of building confidence, wrestling also helps to form strong emotional bonds between teammates, which Wiebe feels is especially important for women, who in the absence of institutional support often have to fight for legitimacy, visibility and opportunities. She believes that building this support network has real strength to create progress in society in ensuring the safety of the next generation of young women in sport.

If you’ve been the first to accomplish something, make sure you’re not the last.”

Erica Wiebe advises young people to recognise their talent and work with determination. Challenges for the next generation are even harder because we live in times of instant gratification, but her advice is to enjoy the journey. Fear and doubt are natural, and proof of you being human, so seek inspiration from these emotions: try new things, work with determination, and reach out for support when you need it.

Us wrestlers want to show young girls that they can do anything they want. This is life’s biggest lesson.

Discover more about Erica Wiebe’s journey in our new original series, ‘What Moves Me’, in partnership with Toyota. 

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