Carissa Holland’s wrestling quest for gold
Australian wrestler Carissa Holland is not leaving the Gold Coast without a medal.
It is an unwavering self-belief that has been building since she was bullied as a kid at school.
Holland discovered the sport first as an instrument for self defence - the bullying got so bad she was pushed down a flight of stairs - but in reality, wrestling gave her so much more than that.
Wrestling gave her a place she belonged, a safe place she felt comfortable, a place that was hers.
After taking up the sport as a nine-year-old, Holland became national champion just six months later.
By the time she was 13, she was travelling with the Australian team overseas. She has gone on to win 20 national titles across multiple age and weight categories. But more importantly, Holland found her life calling.
It is this journey that she hopes can inspire others not only to become wrestlers, but also to raise awareness that bullying in any form is not okay.
“I took it up because I was bullied at school, and I wanted to learn self defence,” Holland told GC2018.com.
“Wrestling has given me purpose, it has given me everything.
“If I can help one other person who has gone through bullying, there are avenues to help, you don’t have to be a victim, it is all about finding your love and finding a support group who are there for you and make you feel welcome.
“That is what worked for me, my wrestling family and having that community there for me. It made me feel associated with something and that I was welcomed.”
Holland will compete on Thursday, it will be her second Commonwealth Games, but she is more prepared now than she was four years ago. The 23-year-old has pushed herself harder than she ever thought possible, including gaining a scholarship to train full-time in Finland for six months.
The experience changed her profoundly, both as a wrestler – where she spent most of her time staring at the ceiling – and as a person.
There is no question she has gone to a whole new level in her wrestling, but if she wants to medal, she knows she has strong competition in Babita Phogat, an Indian wrestler who claimed the Glasgow gold medal and was also immortalized in the Bollywood movie Dangal.
But Holland’s journey and her training have ignited a fire and sense of self belief that is unshakeable. Long gone is the timid insecure kid that used to be picked on.
“It made me grow as a person and made me realise the level I need to be to be the best in the world,” she said.
“I’m a completely different wrestler because of it and I have a whole new perspective on not just wrestling but life as well.
“I have given everything into this, this has been my life, I want to make my family and friends proud.
“I am not leaving Gold Coast without a medal.
“I know in my ability and what I’ve been through and my potential that I can get a medal. This time I know what to expect, I’m confident, I’m ready and I am not leaving without a medal.
“I will cry if I get a medal, I’m not leaving without a medal. I’ve worked so hard for it. I’ve almost given up so many times, but it is the light at the end of the tunnel that I’ve been working for. Regardless of the result, I’m going to give everything I’ve physically got. I’m not going to give up.”
Wearing the green and gold is something that still gives Holland goosebumps.
When she walked into the Glasgow Opening Ceremony, she had to hide behind the Australian flag to try to conceal the tears streaming down her face.
The enormity of the moment, the emotional and physical journey she had been on to that point were palpable. It all came flooding to the surface.
“It was a massive milestone in my life,” she said.
“Hands down it was the greatest experience of my life walking in the Opening Ceremony, I had tears in my eyes, I thought all the blood, sweat and tears in my life to get me to this moment were worth it.
“There is nothing like wearing the green and gold and being able to represent your country on the world stage.
“I wasn’t disappointed leaving the Commonwealth Games, I was disappointed that I didn’t medal, but I was still young, I didn’t know what to expect going in, it was one of my first senior competitions.
“It was an amazing experience to see the level of wrestling that I aspired to get to, that was my end goal and I came away loving my sport at a whole other level.
“It all started in Glasgow, wearing the green and gold is an experience like no other.”
Now Holland returns to the Commonwealth Games with more desire, more experience and more belief.
The Australian team have been pushing themselves to the very brink of exhaustion three times a day. Most sessions leave the entire team sprawled on their backs, unable to move, staring at the ceiling.
This is what it takes to make it as a wrestler.
“Wrestling is scientifically one of the toughest sports on earth,” she said.
“We are getting pushed to our limits every single session, we’ve been training three times a day as a team, every single session we are left there on the floor and we can’t move. We want to be the strongest and the fittest we’ve ever been. It is a very physically demanding sport, it only goes for six minutes, but those six minutes are the toughest of your life.
“There are so many different things you need to train for. It is not a one-dimensional sport. You think about the different components of fitness, what does wrestling include, it includes all of them. You need to have agility, you need to have power, you need to have strength, you need to have coordination and speed.
“You have to keep fighting, that is what we are trained to do. If we get thrown down, we have to get straight back up, it’s kind of like life. You keep going. If you stay down, you are only going to stay down.”
Tickets are still available to see Carissa in the 53kg preliminaries.
3 Years, 138 days, 7 hours and 49 seconds ago I posted this on Facebook. And now, keeping to my promise, I am off to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with my amazing wrestling team! I may be a bit quiet during the Games but beforehand I just wanted to thank a few people and sponsors for believing in me and my support! Thank you to all my amazing family and friends ❤️ and the following clubs and sponsors below: @bluechip.talent @thermoskinau @graciejiujitsusmeatongrange @thechirohub @wrestlingaustraliainc @commgamesaus @carusosnaturalhealth @nutritionstation_wetherillpark @ufcgymaustralia @coolxchangeau @justindhollandfitness @crsm316 @mosti.syd @freakathletiq @_raymic_ @6degreesfit