Her voice is barely louder than a mouse and her stature at 44 kilos is not much more either. But her determination and the size of her heart is immeasurable on any scale.
Defying all odds, Rowena Cacapit, a Grade 12 student from John Oliver Secondary earned the school's first gold medal in 25 years -- and first ever for a female athlete -- at the 2010 Canadian Cadet Wrestling Championship held April 9-11 at Simon Fraser University.
Chris Fuoco, John Oliver's wrestling coach recounts how Capacit discovered wrestling. "As a Grade 10 student Capacit began hanging around the Youth Zone afterschool program looking for a place to practice for the dance squad which she leads. She clearly had a passion for dancing and would practice along the perimeter of the mats while the boys wrestled."
"It didn't take long for the boys to notice the coordination and athleticism in her dancing, which was all self taught," said Fuoco. He and the other wrestling coaches, including alumni coach Mark Ballon, could not believe the effort Capacit took to perfect her craft.
"We encouraged her to try wrestling and for the first year she dabbled in it," said Fuoco. The following school year, Capacit attended what practices she could manage around her two part-time jobs, extensive volunteer work, dance, acting and school studies. "Maintaining a 93 per cent takes time and effort," said Fuoco.
Fuoco said "Rowena would practice about twice a week and her abilities began to develop. However, since she wrestled very little in Grade 10, and only every other practice in Grade 11, we knew she was not going to get great results in her 47kg class. All the girls in her weight class are tough and committed and strive to be Canada's next Carol Huynh, a gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
During the summer of 2009 coach Mark Ballon convinced Capacit to train at the Youth Zone throughout the summer and for the entire 2009-2010 season, which runs October through March. Although there were other girls on the team, Capacit decided to wrestle with the boys in order to quickly improve her skills. While the boys initially had the upper hand with more experience and natural strength, the tables soon turned and Capacit began leading and challenging the boys to keep up.
Fuoco and the other coaches helped accommodate Capacit training around her many commitments. "She was able to attend 75 per cent of her dance and wrestling sessions," Fuoco said. "She is a very special kid and we needed to help reach her seemingly limitless potential."
The John Oliver and More-Sports wrestling team provides five practice opportunities weekly for students to train. This flexible schedule allows students to find time to be part of the team while still working, studying or volunteering.
Not being able to attend the three top prestigious tournaments due to other commitments and financial constraints, Rowena entered every tier-two event possible and won the War on the Floor Novice, Miri-Piri Invitational, Vancouver Championships, North-Shore/Richmond/Vancouver Zone Championships and all but one of her regular season matches.
Fuoco describes the game-changing competition that Capacit faced at the BC Secondary School Championships in early 2010:
Capacit entered the competition with an enviable 27-1 record, with her only loss being to a wrestler more than two weight-classes heavier. Still she was totally unknown at the beginning of the tournament. She won a tough first match and then had to wrestler the No. 2 seed and past national champion from Alpha Secondary who trains with super-power Burnaby Central. She built a lead and never relinquished it blanking her opponent. In the semi-final she would face the No. 3 seed from William's Lake. Again she defied the odds dominating her opponent both rounds.
Capacit made it to the final against the defending BC champion and two-time national champion. Fuoco recalls that when Capacit stepped onto the mat to begin the final before a crowd of 3,000 spectators, there were only 20 people cheering for Rowena, including her John Oliver teammates, two coaches and a handful of kids from William's Lake she befriended throughout the event.
"The crowd was cheering loud for her opponent as the match began. Many expected Rowena to be pinned within the first round, but nobody told Rowena," Fuoco said. Capacit found an opportunity to throw her opponent on her back and scored a quick three points. The crowd went silent. As the round ended, Cacapit had still not given up a technical point and won the round.
Now, could she win a second round to claim the gold? The second round went as a chess match and she barely missed scoring in the dying seconds. The round would go to a tie-breaker and she lost the advantage on the "Clinch". The match would go a third round.
The crowd was now in a frenzied state and the expectation was for another close round to decide the outcome. It wasn't even close as Cacapit scored five single points and stayed tough allowing none against her."
Rowena Capacit defied the odds to become John Oliver's first gold medalist in a quarter decade and the first ever female wrestling champion for the school. She is a dancer, scholar, actress, volunteer and now; provincial AAA wrestling champion and national Juvenile champion.