Although this is her first Pan Am Games, Braxton Papadopoulos has already amassed a successful career and at 20-years-old, she’s just getting started.
Papadopoulos will represent Canada in wrestling, a sport she has been dedicated to for over 10 years.
She was built for wrestling by wrestling with her uncle, and coach, Stan Tzogas transforming her from a strong contender to one of the best female wrestlers in the world.
Despite strong family ties to wrestling, Papadopoulos wasn’t always a fan of the sport.
“My dad thought it would be a good idea for me to try it out, especially with my uncle being so involved in the sport,” Papadopoulos said. “With wrestling being such a big part of my family, he thought I would love it. It was the complete opposite. I did not like it at all.”
Much has changed since she first stepped onto the mat.
Papadopoulos is starting to make a name for herself in the sport with first place finishes at the 2014 Canadian Junior and Senior Championships as well as a third place finish at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a fourth place finish at the 2014 Women’s World Cup.
“I’ve been on the senior national team since I was 17. I feel like the training that I do is focused on not really trying to beat people my age but to beat people at the senior level” she said.
With the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games starting later this week, Papadopoulos is thrilled to be competing on home soil.
“A few of the athletes that I will probably wrestle at Pan Am, I’ve wrestled before, and those have all been great matches. It will be great to compete against them at home,” Papadopoulos said. “And I’m so excited to have all my family and friends here to watch, to have everyone on my support system there will be special.”
Papadopoulos also made note of the home crowd advantage many Canadian athletes will experience at the Games.
“It’s a comfort thing too,” she added. “Whenever you are competing somewhere else, no matter how much you are focused on the sport or the competition, in the back of your mind, you know you’re not at home. It’s a complete honour to represent Canada in Canada.”
In 2013, many wrestlers around the world were threatened with the possibility of wrestling not being part of the 2020 Olympics Games.
A decision in September 2013 revealed that wrestling would be part of the 2020 Olympics. However, this result changed very little for Papadopoulos as she continues to train for the 2016 Olympics.
“As wrestlers, the Olympics is what we train for. It is the biggest competition of our lives. We have the World Championships, but as an athlete of wrestling, going to the Olympics is what we dream of,” she said. “I just kept my mind on the 2016 Games. I continue to be focused on competing at the 2016 Olympics.”
This year’s Pan Am Games will greatly contribute to that goal.
Papadopoulos recently moved up to the 63kg weight class. She hopes the Pan Am Games will help her prepare for the competition in this new class of wrestlers.
“Since I moved up a weight class, the Pan Am Games will help me get a feel for this new class. It will help me get used to the new weight class and the new competitors in that class so I’m excited to see how this helps me prepare for the Olympics,” Papadopoulos said.
One step at a time is a phrase all too familiar in sports.
Chanelle Sequin is a publisher & sports writer at Tough Competition Magazine focused on celebrating women in sports as athletes and icons. This article was originally published on The Tough Competition Magazine.