Sa-yez Wilson didn’t even know what wrestling was.
But over the years, he has poured his blood, sweat and tears into the sport and will make his first-ever wrestling appearance at the North American Indigenous Games this week.
“My sensei for judo was going through some [personal] difficulties, so he took a year of absence, but I wasn’t going to get any exercise so I was disappointed,” said the Smithers Secondary School student. “I was walking through my school and I heard the announcements talking about wrestling and I wondered what it was, I’d never heard of wrestling.”
Since then, he has competed in tournaments around the province, however, the North American Indigenous Games in Saskatchewan will be one of the largest stages Wilson will compete on.
But the 17-year-old isn’t nervous.
“I feel pretty good. I’ve been working a lot to save up some money to go,” said Wilson. “I like meeting new people and fitness.”
He will be joining Team B.C. with three other wrestlers from Vancouver Island, he said.
“I’m shadowing it in my head, visualizing it, thinking about it,” he said of the upcoming competition.
Though he admits he hasn’t trained in about four months, he attended a wrestling camp in Port Alberni recently, and wants to try some of the moves he’s learned.
“This camp was the only thing I could train at. It’s not the typical camp that I would normally go to, but we got 15 hours of training,” he said.
“We learned a couple of new things [and] how to do new moves.”
Wilson does have some go-to techniques that he hopes will lead him to victory.
“I like throwing because I’m also in judo. I think my favourite one is single-leg though,” he said.
According to his father, Shane, Sa-yez is proud and excited to represent the Bulkley Valley.
“He loves the competition, he loves the physical aspects of being active,” said Shane. “He’s a very dedicated athlete and he loves everything that he gets to do.”
However, his three years of wrestling have not been without injury.
He has suffered concussions, and tore his muscles and rotator cuff.
“I’ve been injured at tournaments, like at provincials, I got a concussion,” he said. “So I wasn’t allowed to continue wrestling.”
However, his father insists he is ready for the Games.
“Right now, he’s fit as fiddle,” said Shane. “He’s been jogging home from work on a daily basis. He’s really committed. When he realized he’s going to be competing against kids from the Northwest Territories and Eastern Canada, it was quite an eye-opening moment.”
Despite being injured multiple times, it has opened up new doors for Wilson.
“I’m going to do college for two years. But what I’m really looking to do is to become a massage therapist or a chiropractor because I notice how much people get injured and I noticed how much I got injured.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” he added.
Wilson will be competing in the under 69 kilogram weight class in Regina between July 20-27.
He is one of many Bulkley Valley athletes who will be competing in the Games, along with athletes from softball, volleyball, soccer, swimming and basketball.
The North American Indigenous Game showcases sport, culture and teamwork between First Nations, Metis and Non-Indigenous communities across the country.