(Courtesy Alexander Perez)
After pinning his opponent, Owen Diabo walked out of the gym with his mom, Kim. Struggling to catch his breath, Diabo reached for his Gatorade, which he heartily chugged.
“It’s hard work,” Kim said. “But I’m proud of you.”
Marking his second win of the season, Diabo found it difficult to process the result.
“It feels amazing. I’m still in shock I won,” he said.
Diabo was one of many wrestlers picked to attend last Thursday’s (February 6) Greater Montreal Athletic Association’s All-Star meet, hosted by Howard S. Billings Regional High School. The All-Star Meet gathers the best high school talent across the GMAA to face off against last year’s defending champions, Loyola High School.
“The GMAA is a developmental league and our goal is to get the athletes to the next level to go provincials, to go to nationals,” said Peter Montour, a wrestling coach at HSB.
Introduced in the early 90s, the all-star meet is held a week before the GMAA championships, which took place this Thursday at Massey-Vanier High School. The meet is set up to gauge the best wrestlers in each weight class, while also honouring those who have shined throughout the season.
The all-stars came away with the victory, with a score of 50-16. For HSB wrestler Lucas Styres, the showcase was a learning curve. Losing his match, Styres kept his chin up, taking the opportunity as a means to improve rather than dwell on the loss.
“It’s a way to show yourself, to show what you’re made of,” said Styres. “It was a way to improve my moves. I was focusing more defensively. It’s a learning experience, you gotta get through it.”
Both Diabo and Styres were invited to the showcase with as little as two years of wrestling experience under their belt. Before its reintroduction in 2018, HSB’s wrestling program folded twice before, in the 70s and 90s. A former wrestler and coach at Kahnawake Survival School, Montour arrived at HSB with almost 30 years of experience, and brought the program back.
“I started wrestling when I was 12, so some of these younger guys walking around, I was their age when I started,” he said. “My whole reason for going into coaching was to give the kids the same experience I had when I was a kid.”
Growing up, Montour considered himself fortunate for the coaches he had the opportunity to train with. Wrestling is a tough sport, he said, but they were a family.
Wrestling runs deep in Montour’s family. His late brother Joel, son Otiohkwanoron, and his daughters, Kawennanoron and Sabrina, all competed in the sport growing up.
Kawennanoron never thought about pursuing any other sport but wrestling. It was a path she was drawn to.
“My grandparents would take me and my younger cousins across to Denver, Colorado to watch my father and my brother compete in the same North American Indigenous Games,” said Kawennanoron. “I’ve never thought about doing anything but wrestling.”
Inspired by her late uncle Joel, Kawennanoron competed in the Canada Games in 2013 and North American Indigenous Games in 2014, and became a two-time GMAA champion. After graduating high school in 2014, Kawennanoron now finds herself coaching at HSB. “For me it was about continuing my family’s legacy,” said Kawennanoron.
The notion of family bonds led many of Montour’s athletes to enter the sport. For both Styres and Diabo, wrestling is a family sport.
Looking up to his older brother, Nicholas, Styres said it felt only right to continue the tradition. “As soon as I started, I really loved it.”
“He’s got an older brother as a mentor, and they go together to the gym, help each other and share the expertise from the older one to the younger one,” said Styres’ mother, Valerie.
Diabo was inspired to start wrestling by his late uncle Joe — a former KSS champion.
“For me wrestling is life,” said Diabo. “It deals with all the problems I have, like stress.”
Diabo hopes to continue on with wrestling for as long as he can. His goal is to one day earn a scholarship in the sport, citing Concordia University as his school of choice to continue his education. Ultimately, Diabo would love to pursue a wrestling career.
“He’s come a long way from last year until now. He’s got the drive for it.” said Kim. “I’m pretty sure his uncle Joe is smiling down on him.”