Di Bacco keeps the faith
At 5 a.m. on the day of her recent wrestle-off against Linda Morais, Brock Wrestling Club member Olivia Di Bacco was a mess.
“I felt sick to my stomach and had so much anxiety so I talked to the Lord and was really honest,” the 31-year-old Orillia native said. “I told God that I really wanted to wrestle well today and this is the result I would like but regardless of whether that result happens, I will walk off the mat having wrestled without fear.”
She knew she had put all the preparation in to do well and she felt good both mentally and physically.
To ready herself for the day, Di Bacco listened to a worship song and ‘talked to the Lord.’
“I thanked him for the opportunity in front of me. The anxiety didn’t go away but I felt this sense that OK, God is good no matter the outcome. God will be glorified no matter the outcome.”
Faith has always been an integral part of Di Bacco’s wrestling career.
“I feel that God shows up for me and teaches me a lot through the sport of wrestling. I am always amazed at what he teaches me in challenging situations.”
Thankfully she went into the match to decide who would represent Canada at the upcoming world championships feeling like herself.
“That was such a gift. There are so many times in sport where you don’t feel like yourself and you come off the mat disappointed because you didn’t wrestle up to your capacity. I felt like that didn’t happen on Saturday.”
Before the 68-kilogram match began, she knelt down at the edge and offered one final prayer. But it wasn’t about the result.
“I don’t think God cares whether I win or lose wrestling matches but he cares about the attitude I wrestle with.”
A great attitude would be crucial in order for Di Bacco to defeat Morais, a former world champion and the reigning world bronze medalist at 68 kilograms.
After the first three-minute round, the match was tied 1-1 with Morais holding the tiebreaker because she had scored last.
“I felt mentally clear which is a good sign for me. I felt calm and felt that we would keep chipping away. The score was really close but let’s just keep doing what we are doing. I felt she was going to gas out pretty soon.”
Di Bacco scored a point to go up 2-1 and then recorded a four-point takedown to grab a commanding 6-1 lead with a minute and a half left.
“At that point, to (head coach Marty) Calder’s great disgruntlement, I decided to shut it down and play defence. He wanted me to keep pushing for the attack and that’s not what happened. That is what we are going to work on for the next six weeks.”
She felt relief and gratitude the moment the match ended.
“I knew the match had been coming since March. It was prepping for one opponent, one match and to have it done it was ‘Now we get to play with the big boys. Now we get to go to the world championships where the fun really happens.’ ”
After the match ended, she went out in the hall.
“I got down on my hands and knees and freaked out a couple of people. I was thankful it was done.”
What followed was an outpouring of support.
“Text messages, phone calls and DMs (direct messages) started to pour in and I was just overwhelmed with how many people watched the match, were following along, were super excited and just so supportive of that win.”
There is still plenty of work left.
“The best case scenario is I go to Belgrade, Serbia, on Sept 17 (for the world championships), finish top five in the world and qualify a 68-kilogram spot for Canada at the 2024 Summer Olympics.”
Her win over Morais has already advanced her directly into the finals at the Olympic wrestling trials in December but a top five finish at worlds would give her the added bonus of being up 1-0 in the best-of-three final.
“It is a huge advantage to have.”
She is confident but not overconfident heading to worlds, after defeating Morais and the reigning Olympic silver medalist a few weeks ago.
“What is funny about wrestling is that anything can happen on any given day and you can’t go in cocky. This is a sport that humbles everybody all the time,” Di Bacco said. “The results are there, I am in the mix and in September I have to show up and have a good day. We have about six weeks to Sept. 17 and I need to continue to be faithful in all the little things.”
Her appearance at the worlds will be her first since losing the bronze medal match in 68-kilogram division at 2021 world championships in Oslo, Norway. In the final 10 seconds of that match, she injured her left knee.
“It’s on film in all its glory so you can go back and watch it.”
The 2022 season was spent getting surgery and rehabbing the knee.
“It was hard. With any big comeback story, it can feel so overwhelming. March 2022 I woke up in the hospital fresh off of surgery and I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. The road ahead is so long but it was OK. What can I do today?’ Then you wake up the next day and say ‘What can I do to be a little bit better.’ ”
To help her get through the tough times, she put up a quote in her bathroom which read ‘If you can be trusted with the mundane, you can be prepared for the significant.”
She faithfully adhered to that motto.
“It was being faithful to the little things: going to physio; going to bed on time; eating well; going at the pace my surgeon, my physiotherapist and my strength and conditioning coach said; and, trusting that, brick by brick, I would get back to where I wanted to be.”
She returned to domestic competition in January of this year, international competition in February and won the senior nationals in March.