In the international arena of wrestling, a Filipino-Canadian teenager is stealing the spotlight from the rest of the world. She bore the Canadian flag at Pan-American Wrestling Championship in Peru. She is the only Filipino in the Cadet Women’s Pan-Am Team and in September, she will be the only Filipino to compete at the Wrestling World Championships. She is Calista Espinosa and this is the story of how a champion is made.
While most middle school students are still dozing off at the crack of dawn, Calista is already up at five for an early morning jog, a routine essential to her career as an athlete. Afterwards, Calista, along with her brother Xavier, leave home for school.
Calista and Xavier are grades 11 and 9 students at St. Patrick’s Regional Secondary School in Vancouver. Like his elder sister, Xavier is also a wrestler.
“They are both in wrestling and very supportive of each other. During the school year, both stay after school to catch up on their homework, then, together, they transit to their wrestling practices,” Mylene Espinosa, mother of Calista and Xavier says.
“Depending on the day of the week, their practices are either in Vancouver, New Westminster, SFU, or Coquitlam. Calista trains 5-6 times a week and Xavier trains 3-4,” she adds.
Calista’s athletic career started with another grappling art, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At a young age of seven, she was learning all kinds of choke and escape techniques. She later rose to become a yellow belt and competed at Pan Kids in California in 2012 and at the Naga Tournament in Hawaii in 2013.
After dabbling in jiu-jitsu, Calista switched to wrestling under the coaching of Marc Mongeon, a Canadian wrestler who represented Canada in the 1984 Summer Olympics.
“One of the main reasons I switched to wrestling was because wrestling is an Olympic sport with potential scholarships. Another reason was because wrestling was a sport offered in school and I loved the fact that I could represent them,” Calista says.
In 2011, Calista had the honor to represent Canada at the Pan-American Championship in Lima, Peru. She is the only Filipino on Team Canada.
“I feel very proud!” Calista says.
“To be honest, I sometimes forget that I am a minority on the team. In general, there aren’t too many Filipinos in wrestling; but the ones that are in the sport are spectacular. I think it’s because of our strength and determination that make Filipinos natural wrestlers,” she adds.
The Filipino wrestler
Watching one’s weight is very important in wrestling. A grappling art that divides its contenders through weight classes, Calista, like most athletes, grappled with cutting down her weight.
“Wrestling is a unique sport because you compete at your weight class. The lighter the weight class that you are in, the better your performance.”
“For myself, I walk around at 45kg (at less than 5 ft. tall) and compete at 43kg. However, for Nationals and a spot on Team Canada, I had to compete at 40kg. That’s more than 10 pounds of my walking weight! That’s what I find most difficult about wrestling: being on a strict diet and being Filipino doesn’t make it any easier,” Calista says.
“My parents are sometimes criticized for allowing me to weight-cut, especially by my Lola who is always ready to feed me delicious Filipino food (my favourite is pancit). What these people don’t realize is that my mother meal-plans for me everyday so that I get the nutrients I need to train. However, these meals do not include any Filipino delicacy such as white rice and delicious stews,” she adds.
“The worst part about being a Filipino wrestler is that it’s much harder to resist the yummy Filipino cuisine!” Calista jovially says.
Journey to Georgia
The Espinosas are one of the many Filipino-Canadian families in British Columbia. Like others, they pride themselves for their rich Filipino heritage. However, the Espinosas carry a unique story from the rest of Filipino-Canadian families for not all families take on the extraordinary journey of raising champions, a journey the Espinosas has gladly taken.
“We are very proud of Calista’s accomplishments and do our best to support her endeavours,” Mylene says.
However, not all journeys are smooth sailing. Similar to parents of athletes who compete internationally, Calista’s parents, Mylene, a school teacher, and Sherween, a carpenter, also encounter difficulties in taking their daughter’s athletic career steps further.
“It is a sacrifice, both financial and personal, to help our children pursue any dream, especially Calista’s wrestling career,” Mylene relates.
“We try our best not to stretch our money or time too far that our safety and security may be compromised. Financially, my husband and I make enough to support our family of four in this very expensive economy. It is important to us to set aside enough money for our children so that they may attend a Catholic school and wrestling classes,” she adds.
Calista has been to Washington, Calgary, and Peru just this year to compete.
“Her next tournament in Tblisi, Georgia (between Turkey and Russia), is for the World Wrestling Cadet Championship in September of this year,” Mylene says.
“It is important for our children to push themselves to their limit so that they have no regrets in life. If this means finding the funds to send Calista, then we will do our very best to fuel her dream,” she adds.
Sending Calista to Georgia will cost the Espinosas over $5,000.
Mylene, who grew up in a typical Filipino family, is a witness to the values system of a Filipino community. One of those value is helping others. It’s the same value that she and her husband Sherween taught their children.
“We are a family and together we use all our talents, time, surplus, and connections to support each other,” she says.
“My mother always taught me that, if you can, help those that can’t. As Filipinos, we do what we can to help those in need,” Calista says.
“Calista is the future of Filipino wrestlers. She is paving the way for other young Filipino wrestlers to dream big and go as far as they can go in this sport. In order for Calista to reach her limits, she needs to go to Tblisi, Georgia and compete with the best in the world. To do this, she will need support from her fellow Filipinos!” Mylene tells.
“If you are able to, please sponsor my Team Canada journey. If you are fortunate enough to be financially successful now it was because you once had a dream too when you were my age. Please help me represent Canada and all the Filipinos at Tblisi, Georgia,” Calista says.
With your help, Calista will be able to fulfill her dreams of competing at the Wrestling World Championships. Your donations will pave the way for Calista to bring home a gold medal. This is your chance to contribute to the building of a champion. Be part of the story of how a champion is made!
Sponsor Calista now! Go to http://gocaligo.wixsite.com/support for more information on how you can help the Philippine pride. In appreciation of your sponsorship, Calista will write a blog to recognize your generosity.