When Alex Schell came home from university in Saskatchewan to Smithers this years, it was with mixed feelings about having to hang up her wrestling shoes.
“It’s exciting in some ways to have all this time to find something new to put my energy into, but at the same time, it’s definitely sad,” she said.
Schell, who grew up in Smithers and wrestled at Smithers Secondary School, racked up an impressive record of accolades in her five years as a Husky, including three straight national individual titles in her weight class (without losing a single point) and a team title in 2019.
Despite her personal accomplishments, it was the latter that stands out for her.
“In my fourth year as a team, we brought back the Canada West championship and as much as wrestling is an individual sport I think that team accomplishment was probably the highlight,” she said.
“It’s definitely easier to be proud of others than to be proud of yourself and it’s definitely [more] fun to celebrate.
Her personal dominance in Canadian varsity athletics did not come easily however. She said graduating to the university level from small-town B.C. was a huge adjustment. From a maximum of three practices a week, she was thrown into a rigorous routine with tougher competition in the University of Saskatchewan developmental program.
“There are all these kids who are now your training partners who are used to this and it was just all of a sudden you’re training every day and this is the new reality, but it was good,” she said.
“I think one of the big reasons I did go there was because they had quite a few strong girls my weight, so as far as training partners it was great, but as far as not being top dog in the room it was not so great, I got beat up my first couple of years, but then those girls graduated and moved on and then it was kind of cool to see that, oh wow, the hardest competition has been in my room for the last couple of years.”
The other big reason was academics, at which she also excelled being named an Academic All Canadian in each of her championship years and graduating with great distinction from her Bachelor of Kinesiology program in 2019. Striking a balance was challenging.
“You’d be very busy doing either one of them and to do both was definitely a full-time endeavour,” she said. “It was full-on, but it was worth it, I got what I wanted out of it.”
It took some sacrifice, though.
“Sleep is definitely not an option to lose when you’re an athlete so… I definitely had my fun, but you miss out on a couple of things
And it didn’t get any easier when she started her Master’s in Physical Therapy this school year.
This year was definitely a level up as far as juggling the time commitment with the master’s program, but again it was just possible in terms of sanity,” she said.
With one year to go in the master’s program, Schell is biding her time as to what comes next.
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” she said. “I’m trying to keep an open mind as far as what my career goals will be, I’ll have a chance through my program to get insight into all the different settings [available].”
One thing that is not on the table, however, is wrestling. Having used up her five years of eligibility and having no desire to try to take it to the next level, she is done with competing.
“My goals were generally always kind of varsity and I never really felt the drive to want to do more,” she said. “It’s a full commitment and I did my five years of full commitment and there’s other parts of my life that would be kind of fun to put a little bit more time into now.”
She does see a future, perhaps, in coaching, though.
It’s one of those things where I’m still kind of getting used to the idea that I’m not wrestling anymore and (coaching) is kind of the next step after,” she said. “It’s pretty much the way I would still be able to be involved in the sports community so eventually, when I do get established wherever I end up, it would definitely be great to join that community. If it’s Smithers it would be great to come back and coach here.”
Getting into wrestling in the first place was a means of distinguishing herself from her twin sister Mikaela.
“I forbid her from wrestling after I started,” she said. “It was the first thing I got to myself so I was keeping it that way. She joined rugby in retaliation, so she got that, I got wrestling.”
She feels grateful for the support she has had from her proud parents Natalie and Chris.
“My mom fell in love with the sport when I did, so it’s been great,” she said. “She loves coming to tournaments and they try to get out to at least one a year and it’s great to have them there.”