Ietsitsionni Loft-Pompana, 16, grew up in Tyendinaga, Ont., a small Indigenous community where baseball and lacrosse reign supreme.
This week, she’s not playing either sport at the North American Indigenous Games. Instead, she’ll be battling it out in the wrestling ring.
When Loft-Pompana hit high-school age, the thought of failing to connect with anyone at her new school terrified her. “So I signed up for sports to try to make friends. Rugby, wresting, lacrosse — it gave me friends I think will be long-term,” Loft-Pompana said.
The intrepid teen turned out to be a multi-talented athlete — even at sports she didn’t realize existed.
Loft-Pompana was tapped for the wrestling team by her high school coach, who saw her potential one day on the rugby field.
“I never actually knew about wrestling. I was thinking of WWE stuff,” she laughed, referencing the entertainment company notorious for its use of metal folding chairs as weapons. “I went to my first practice and it was not what I expected.”
Her first time on the mat, “everything clicked,” she said. “I dominated my first tournament. Ever since then I’ve been a wrestler.”
Wrestling more like chess
She practiced only twice more before competing in her first serious match. “I kind of grasped the moves but I didn’t think that in the heat of the moment I could do them,” she recalled. “When you’re on the mat it’s so intense that your mind blanks.”
But when the referee blew the whistle, everything came to her. She says she executed the complex moves perfectly.
“It’s not body structure, height or weight” that’s key to winning, she said. “I’ve seen girls I could probably lift with one arm just dominate people bigger than them.”
Instead, wrestling demands close attention to technique and strategy.
“You really have to have a fast mind,” she said, describing the chess-like logic employed by a wrestler on the mat, who needs to hold several attacks and their defences in mind…