Sweezey pays it forward
Heather Sweezey would be the first to admit a teaching career wasn’t one of her lifelong dreams.
“I actually went into teaching because I had just finished my first degree at Brock and I had two more years of eligibility (for wrestling),” the 40-year-old Sault Ste. Marie native said. “I wasn’t prepared to leave Brock and I had no intentions of being a teacher. I wanted to be a physical therapist, but I wanted to finish off my wrestling so teachers college was the next step.”
Her career goal was to travel, teach internationally, see the world and pursue physiotherapy, but then she discovered that she loved teaching.
“I liked the interactions with the kids and the bonds that develop,” she said. “You see that you are making progress and you are successful with them and you want to continue.”
Coaching was a natural extension to teaching and she started helping out even before she achieved her teaching degree. Sweezey helped start the wrestling program at Laura Secord and then was a coach for Team Ontario in 2005.
She started teaching biology at Thorold then spent two years at Eastdale before returning to Thorold Secondary School, where she still teaches physical education and coaches most everything.
“Because it is a small school, I have also coached soccer, slo-pitch, cross country and I have even done basketball. That was scary,” she said, with a laugh.
Sweezey hasn’t coached football but she is a regular at Thorold games, operating the clock on the sidelines.
“I love football and I absolutely just enjoy it.”
She started by helping out one of the parents of her wrestlers, who also played football, and never stopped.
Coaching is her passion.
“I love it, I love taking the kids and helping them be the best they can be. You have that interaction and you get those bonds.”
She was inspired by the coaches she had, including high school coach Frank Pozzebon and university coaches Marty Calder and Richard DesChatelets.
“They were really big influences in my life and the whole giving back to the sport thing is huge. A lot of people did a lot for me and I think you have to pay it forward.”
Wrestling is obviously her favourite sport to coach.
“I love the idea you are the only one on the mat and nobody affects things except yourself,” she said. “To be successful in wrestling, you don’t just need physical toughness but you need that mental fortitude and drive to push past when you are feeling pain or are uncomfortable.”
She is concerned about the future of high school wrestling.
“Our numbers have dropped immensely and it’s tough as coaches retire,” she said. “It will be a really tough bounce back after COVID and I don’t know where we are going to be.”
She feels all sports, especially at the high school level, might struggle. Wrestling will face the biggest challenges because of its unique nature.
“You need that mental fortitude and the ability to want to feel pain and enjoy it. Kids are changing now and they don’t have the urge to put themselves in uncomfortable situations. You have to train hard to be successful at wrestling and I don’t think kids want to commit to that five days a week.”
Away from Thorold high, Sweezey has been the head coach of the Brock Junior Badgers community wrestling program. She had planned to step away from that this year to help Dave Collie coach the Brock women’s team.
She is also the women’s team coach for the upcoming Canada Summer Games and no one was happier than her to see that event put off until to 2022.
“Thank God they postponed because every other province is wrestling.”
She is also the vice-president of women’s development with the Ontario Amateur Wrestling Association
Growing up in the Soo, Sweezey was a two-time Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations champion and placed at the high school provincial championships every year. At the end of high school, she decided to quit wrestling and attend Waterloo.
“I didn’t want to do it any more. In my last year, I was stressing out, not performing up to my peak and having mental breakdowns before matches. I needed a break.”
While she attended Waterloo, she went to Brock to watch her brother Kyle wrestle.
“I missed it so I transferred to Brock and started wrestling here.”
She competed for five years at Brock and won three Canadian Interuniversity Sports individual titles and a handful of Ontario University Sports titles. She is in the Brock Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 2001-02 women’s team that captured the first women’s national title.