A pair of young ladies will represent the Sudbury Regional Wrestling Club at top-end national and international competitions this weekend, following a path neither would have predicted just 12 short months ago.
Saturday in Calgary, Celeste Rodrigues will take part in the 2014 Canadian Championships — Stage 2 and Team Selection Trials, the event at which the roster of wrestlers who will represent the country at upcoming international meets will be determined.
For the 24-year-old graduate of Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier who captured OFSAA gold in 2006, it has been a long and sometimes weary road. A serious knee injury and ongoing challenges seeing eye to eye with her head coach at Brock University curtailed a promising OUA career, limiting Rodrigues to just two years of post-secondary competition.
Back home in Sudbury to continue her education, the eldest of two children in the family decided to give wrestling one more try, taking part in the Ontario Senior Championships hosted at Laurentian University back in November.
A fourth-place finish would not deter her renewed enthusiasm for a sport that she had loved for years.
"Andy (Lalonde) and I prepared a plan, and Yves Charette has helped me a lot with the mental work," explained Rodrigues, prepping for a recent workout at the Team Shredder facility on Lorne Street.
"We took some time off during the holidays, and then really went to work in the new year. My handwork has improved insanely, my snapdowns have really taken off. I'm really comfortable being able to snap someone down from any position at this point."
By the time the Canadian Senior Championships rolled around in late March, Rodrigues had returned to familiar territory, finishing second only to Liz Sera of Montreal. The Sudbury native insists that she is not only back, but better.
"I'm like a whole other wrestler, to be honest," she said. "I was always hesitating. And I really needed to focus on my mental work, and be more specific on my training and development."
Enter Lalonde, the head coach of both the SRWC and the Laurentian University team, and a man who has travelled this road before.
"When (Rodrigues) decided that she really wanted to commit, I was well aware of the kind of physical abilities that she had as an athlete," noted Lalonde. "I knew that if we could keep her healthy and consistent, it would eventually happen.
"Maybe things progressed a little bit faster than I anticipated. She's dynamic, in the sense that she moves around a lot. She wrestles a lot like a guy, and I mean that in a very good way. She's got an open mind and she's learning.
"Every practice, she's trying different things and getting away from being scared of trying new things."
For grade 11 Lockerby Composite student Alannah Day, the path has not been quite so meandrous.
Capturing a city title and Rookie of the Year in Grade 9, and following up with a gold-medal performance at the Cadet/Juvenile National Championships in 2012, Day suddenly found herself needing some time away.
The end result was one complete year without wrestling, a fact that substantially shaped her expectations entering the 2013-2014 campaign.
"I thought that it was going to be a bit of a rough season, given that I had come back from taking an entire year off training," said Day.
"I came in very nervous, especially since I had a title to uphold."
While it might not have been as simple as riding a bike, Day gradually regained her form, earning a second-place finish at the FILA Cadet Trials earlier this month.
"When I won provincials in February, it kind of gave me a boost, a belief that I could still do this," she said.
Following in the footsteps of older sister Victoria, Day claimed OFSAA gold in early March.
"I came into nationals with pretty high hopes."
It has all added up to a berth on Team Canada, as Day and 20 or so of her teammates travel to Recife (Brazil) from May 2-4, site of the 2014 Cadet Pan Am Championships. It will be her first foray against an international field of competitors, though she got her feet wet over the holidays, attending a tri-country week of training.
"Every country has their own different style, and different moves that they favour," Day stated. "Germans tend to be very fine-tuned, paying attention to detail. I hear the girls from Central America are a lot more scrappy and rough, but that's nothing new to me. I'll be ready for it."
"Alannah moved up a weight class, and that helped her in the sense that she was already a little bit faster than everybody else," Lalonde said. "The lower weight classes wrestle differently. She handled the transition quite well."
For both Rodrigues and Day, there is a lot on the line. While the former is ultimately eyeing a spot on the Canadian Olympic team, Rodrigues knows that her current developmental progression might well see her moving on to something like a Under-24 World competition, or perhaps the FISU Games.
"Depending on how I place, they may send me to the Worlds, or I could contend to go to Youth Olympics in China in August," added Day.
Either way, given the memories of the peaks and valleys that now lie behind them, both young ladies are simply trying to make sure to appreciate the moment.
"The last week of practice is the best week because it's taper week," said Rodrigues with a smile. "You're not going hard, you're not training hard. Whatever you've learned in the past six months to a year, it's not going to change in the last week. So what I do is keep repeating, building muscle memory."
And looking for it all to come together this weekend.