Two Orillia wrestlers will each be returning from Peru with precious medals from the 2019 Pan American Games.
Olivia DiBacco won a silver medal in the 68-kilo division, while Jade Parsons garnered a bronze medal in the 53-kilo division in an event that features some of the globe’s top athletes.
The impressive showing solidifies both athletes’ hopes of representing Team Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
For DiBacco, the silver medal is an amazing accomplishment, but also tough to swallow with a gold within her grasp.
In the gold-medal match, she was defeated by American rival Tamyra Mensah - the world's top-ranked wrester in that weight class.
“A pin is a frustrating way to end it because you feel like you weren’t able to showcase the areas that you’ve improved in, and go the distance with somebody who is so dominant right now in our weight class,” Di Bacco told wrestling.ca
“Every time I step on the mat against Tamyra I feel like I’m able to take something away and something to learn and bring back to my training,” said the 27-year-old graduate of Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute (ODCVI).
“Obviously, you want that top spot, but I’m very proud to be on the podium.”
For Parsons, the bronze was improbable. She was a last-minute replacement for Diana Weicker, who was unable to compete.
Parsons, no stranger to international competition, learned she would be heading to Lima just five days before the event.
“It was a rush from the moment I was told to the moment I got here,” Parsons told wrestling.ca. “There really was no lead-up, but as an athlete you have to be ready all the time. It’s really unfortunate that Diana couldn’t come, but I made the best of a bad situation.”
The 28-year-old ODCVI grad defeated Luisa Valverde of Ecuador to earn the bronze medal, winning the bout she led from the start, 6-3.
Both local grapplers honed their crafts at ODCVI and dominated high-school wrestling circles. They also both represented the Sunshine City through the Mariposa Wrestling Club - one of the province’s top clubs.
Both wrestlers went on to become teammates again at Brock University, where they both won multiple provincial and national medals.
The dynamic duo are among the very best in their respective weight classes.
Parsons almost walked away from wrestling in 2016, when she didn’t make Canada’s Olympic team.
“I had won the CIS championship that year,” recalled Parsons, who says she was disappointed not to be selected for Rio. “I definitely questioned if I wanted to put another four years into this.”
Eventually, she decided to re-commit herself to wrestling and has had a stellar run the last two years, getting ever closer to the goal that she has had since she was a kid.
“My ultimate goal is to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo,” said Parsons.
Now, she and DiBacco are a little closer to that goal.
Dibacco, who just missed a medal at the World Wrestling Championship in Budapest last year, is starting to believe she belongs in the Olympic conversation.
She admits she “wasn’t sure I belonged on the world stage (but) I think I proved I belonged there in Hungary,” said DiBacco, who capped a stellar varsity career at Brock University by winning the 2017 Canadian Wrestling Championship.
Her Olympic dream was dashed in 2016 when she finished third at the Canadian Olympic Trials, just missing an opportunity to represent Canada in Rio.
It inspired DiBacco, who is a registered massage therapist in St. Catharines, to go all-in for 2020.
“I’m so thankful and grateful for the coaches at OD and Mariposa that encouraged me and taught me and continue to support me. Wrestling has changed my life," DiBacco told OrilliaMatters last year. "It has opened so many doors.”
One of those coaches, Juris Ligers, said he is proud of the local athletes’ dedication and excellence on the world stage.
“I am very proud of both of these ladies,” said Ligers. “They both work so hard at training and have set impressive goals for themselves.”
The long-time local wrestling coach noted the only losses the two suffered at the Pan An Games were to wrestlers ranked No. 1 and No 2 in the world.
Ligers said it’s amazing for a small community to boast two international stars in one sport.
“Simcoe County continues to churn out world-class women’s wrestlers,” he said. “This is a testament to the coaching and commitment of” area coaches and wrestling clubs.