Wrestler’s new approach pays off
As Michelle Fazzari gazes around during training, she sees a former vision of herself in some of her Brock Wrestling Club teammates.
“I can look around the room and pinpoint where I was on people’s faces,” the 2017 world bronze medalist said. “And it’s ‘Oh that sucks.’ You can see people who are so frustrated and caught up in tunnel vision.
“I am having way more fun.”
But it wasn’t always that way for the 2016 Olympian.
“I always put pressure on myself and it was bad pressure,” the Hamilton native said. “I just go out and have more fun now and before it was all about outcomes. As much as I tried to not focus on that, subconsciously I was.”
That new approach helped her win her first medal at the world championships — she was fifth in 2014 — and also paid dividends at last fall’s Canadian trials for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
After winning her first two matches at the trials, the 30-year-old came up against an old nemesis, Braxton Papadopolos, in the 62-kilogram final. Fazzari has beaten Papadopolos in the past but had also lost two national finals to the Impact Wrestling Club athlete.
“All I could do was my best and I didn’t focus on thinking I had to win,” she said. “It wasn’t what if I lose this or lose that? Now it’s just go in and the only thing you can do is your best.”
Fazzari fell behind four points to Papadopolos early in the match but she rallied for a 10-5 victory.
“I knew I wasn’t the same wrestler I was a few years ago mentally and I think it was more the mental aspect why I wasn’t performing very well,” Fazzari said “And it wasn’t just her. I wasn’t performing well against a lot of Canadians.”
Her new approach has also carried over to her training. She rests when she needs to after getting treatment on a micro tear in her achilles tendon and she doesn’t run to continue to allow the tendon to heal.
“When you are young, you are so eager and if you sprain your ankle or hurt yourself, you don’t want to take the time off,” she said. “You are so impatient because it is very hard to be far-sighted.”
With age comes wisdom.
“You become smarter in how you train and you realize the process of things,” Fazzari said.
Three-time Olympic medalist Tonya Verbeek, a national team coach based out of Brock, has seen Fazzari mature into a much better wrestler.
“Michelle is heading in a really great direction in terms of finding her groove as a wrestler,” Verbeek said. “Everything is coming together nicely for her and I knew that before Rio (2016 Olympics).
“She needed a little bit more time and the next year she gets a world medal. That made sense in her progression.”
Fazzari is excited about qualifying for the Commonwealth Games.
“It’s my first Commonwealth Games and I’ve never been to Australia so that’s also cool,” she said.
She loves the feel of competing at multi-sport events.
“You get to hang out with people who have the same aspirations as you,” she said. “When you get into the real world, you realize there is such a small group of people that are that ambitious and I get to hang out with the most ambitious people in the world.”
She had high goals for her first appearance at the Commonwealth Games, but is not consumed by them.
“You go there to be on top of the podium,” she said. “That’s my goal but it is much more for me now.
“I want to do what I have been practising; the techniques and the series of moves.”
For 2018, she wants to continue dominating the international circuit and trying the things she has been working on.
Fazzari lost her government funding last year but regained it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t resume until April and she has been staying afloat with plenty of high school supply teaching with the District School Board of Niagara.
“I would prefer part time. I don’t like working five days a week and training,” she said. “I feel my days are really long and I would like to focus on wrestling a little bit more right now. I probably only have two years left.”
While alluding to the 2020 Olympics as her wrestling swan song, it is not written in stone.
“I have tops two years left but who knows?” she said, with a laugh. “I think my goal is to go after 2020 but you don’t know.”
She admits wrestling can be a grind and after the 2020 Olympics, it might be time to focus on her career or something else.
“I don’t think this is highlight of my life; at least I hope not,” she said. “It’s one part and then I can accomplish other goals.”
And while she is an acknowledged veteran in Brock’s wrestling room, she doesn’t see herself at a role model.
“We are just one family in there,” she said. “There’s 10-12 years between some of us but it doesn’t feel like that because we are so connected through something we are so passionate about.”