Gracelynn Doogan wasn’t always a wrestler. Growing up, the Guelph Gryphons star competed in several other sports, including ballet, acrobatics and figure skating. But when the time came 15 years ago to decide what she would pursue, Doogan chose the wrestling mat, realizing that it was a better atmosphere and fit for her career. She joined the Elliot Lake Gladiators Wrestling Club in her hometown, who she credits for showing her what the sport is all about.
“It was the best thing that has happened to me,” Doogan says. “I had just come from figure skating and the wrestling coaches had a lot of sympathy for people who come from different circumstances. They had a lot of love for me. They spoiled me a lot, giving me one-on-one attention and having me practice for hours after it’s over to make sure I understand everything.”
Early in her childhood, Doogan was a relatively bigger wrestler than most of the others. At 5-foot-3 as early as the third grade she had a large advantage, becoming a dominating force early on in her career. It allowed the zoology major to win matches fairly quickly and with ease. But the trouble was that she relied too heavily on her strengths early on instead of technique.
“I had to take the time to understand things,” says Doogan. “When I started competing internationally, I went to the World Championships at 17 years old and came in seventh place."
It [7th place at World Championships] was a huge accomplishment for me being able to go and win matches but I knew I could do better.
Doogan lived up to her wishes and began improving as the years progressed. Last year, she had her best performance she's had internationally to date. At the world championship, en route to the final, she beat the woman who handed her the first international loss of her career at the cadet worlds. Seeing the progress through dedication put a smile on Doogan’s face.
“As much as I get frustrated with slow progression on my techniques, that moment showed me that I’ve come a long way. That was really refreshing,” says Doogan. “As much as silver is a great thing, it makes you think that maybe gold isn't that far (away).”
Doogan has travelled all over the world for competition, including South America, Europe and many other places in her young wrestling career. Last summer marked her first visit had to Africa, where she won a bronze medal at the World Francophone Games held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
“It was such a nice thing representing Team Canada,” she says. “Africa was surprisingly so exciting, I don’t think wrestling gets too much attention but down there we had an arena filled up, there was (a) line-up to get in. When we walked in for the opening ceremony they filled a football field.
“Canada has different styles compared to around the world,” she continues, reflecting on the various skill-sets used in wrestling. “Nationally people seem to have more techniques and I found that internationally it's more about the grounding aspect.”
At the Francophone Games, Doogan and one of her Guelph teammates found themselves being mobbed by fans after their final matches. Having finished in third place, being cheered on as if they were all champions was welcome from the local supporters.
“The community was very excited…I didn’t know (French) was a predominate language there,” says Doogan, who attended a French high school growing up. “It was good to speak French (with them) again.”
Doogan heads into this weekend’s U SPORTS Wrestling Championships at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. looking for another gold medal, after finishing in first place in the 72 kg division a year ago. This time around, she’ll look to become a U SPORTS champion in the 82 kg division.
“I just like going in hoping that I can show that I have been training hard,” she says. “And that I have improved since the last time they saw me.”
Ronny Musikitele is a communication and media student at Carleton University. His career includes writing for BasketballBuzz Magazine, Canada Basketball, the Nike Crown League and more. Ronny believes basketball can change the world. He hopes to use his stories to inspire others and bring light to U SPORTS basketball.
Follow Ronny on Twitter @RonnyMusikitele