Pye and other Olympic hopefuls back on the mats
Armed with a government permit, the Brock Wrestling Club’s coaches and high performance, national team athletes recently returned to the mats.
With Brock University not available for training, two separate training groups of about 10 men and 10 women have resumed workouts at Niagara Top Team martial arts centre on Merritt Street in St. Catharines under strict COVID protocols.
“It was really nice being in a room where wrestling was the focus,” said Brock athlete Clayton Pye, who is preparing for the last chance meet to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.” “It was nice to work on my craft.”
The women resumed training in November and the men were back on the mats in December, but working on the wrestlers’ craft wasn’t the first priority.
“We are used to training almost 12 months of the year and when you take that length of time off, we needed to get the kids back to where they could even train at a high level,” Brock head coach Marty Calder said. “That takes a month or so to get to a point where their body can handle it.”
Pye, who won the Olympic trials in the 86-kilogram division, agrees with that assessment.
“You kind of trick yourself into thinking that you have been working out and doing all this other stuff. That stuff is hard and it shouldn’t be that difficult getting back into wrestling,” the 25-year-old Ingersoll native said. “But wrestling requires a whole different level of cardio because you get so exhausted. I don’t know how to describe it but it is like lifting weights that are trying to lift you back.”
Pye might have been one of the few people caught off guard by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It just started getting bad when I was in training mode,” he said. “I had blinders on and wasn’t really thinking about the pandemic that much.”
He competed in the Pan Am championships and the first Olympic qualifier and then the pandemic hit as he was getting ready to take a two-week break.
“It was ‘OK I can’t go back but that’s kind of nice.’ It was about four weeks before I started thinking that I couldn’t just sit there and I needed to do something.”
The former USPORTS champion did just that.
“I went on lots of runs, I took up bike riding and I was biking from my place in Ingersoll to London and back,” he said. “It’s not that long of a trek when you are practising every day.”
Biking and running weren’t his only pursuits.
“I managed to get my hands on a wrestling dummy and I was throwing that around in my back yard and there were a few times when I was able to get some mat space and go with just one partner and do some things. It was all very quarantine bubble sort of protocols.”
Pye also took advantage when gyms were allowed to reopen.
“I was able to drop in a couple of times because gyms were open for a little while during the summer so I rolled around with some MMA guys.”
The final Olympic qualifier is set for early May in Bulgaria and that is what Pye is focused on. He is paying no attention to what is being said about the Tokyo Games.
“I am training right now to make myself better and I honestly don’t focus on it that hard,” he said. “If I have the opportunity to train, I am thinking about getting better every day and it doesn’t matter what is coming up because I don’t know if it is going to happen. The world is crazy and a lot can change right now.”
Pye is confident he can return to a level that will allow him to qualify for the Olympics.
“I am definitely on my way there and I have been feeling really good since we started back,” he said. “I have hit my stride the last two weeks and I have been really good at practice. Everything is coming together and I am getting better and learning new things.”
Pye and other Olympic hopefuls have ground to make up because many of the other countries’ wrestlers have trained right through the pandemic.
“In the U.S., they have had a ton of of tournaments and there have been tournaments worldwide: Serbia, Italy and France,” Calder said. “The Olympics are going on and they had to get ready.”
Calder believes it is ‘doable’ for his athletes to qualify for the Olympics.
“We have to believe that and I say yes. It is not a hard yes but we are in a sport where you can’t make excuses,” he said. “It is not ideal but I think we can make the best of it and qualify. We have some good athletes.”
Brock Wrestling Club members Pye, Ligrit Sadiku, Jevon Balfour, Jessie MacDonald and Michelle Fazzari will all be looking to punch their Olympic ticket at the final qualifier.
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