Grappling with the future

Seven a.m. on a Tuesday is never a good time to be in a headlock, but for the members of UFV’s wrestling team, it’s just another day on the mats.



By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 16, 2013

Coach Raj Virdi shows Jaskarn Ranu a thing or two about takedowns.

Seven a.m. on a Tuesday is never a good time to be in a headlock, but for the members of UFV’s wrestling team, it’s just another day on the mats.

Head coach Arjan Bhullar told me to show up for practice with shorts, athletic shoes, and a fair degree of humility. I showed up, but any aspirations of training with the team died when I couldn’t complete the warm-up (I didn’t realize wrestling involved handsprings and cartwheels). Until co-coach Raj Virdi got his team down to business, the whole thing felt eerily similar to the time I tried out for the cheerleading team…

Except with way more aggression.

Wrestling is a rough, rough sport. Two straining, sweating, bruised opponents struggle to rope each other into a position so uncomfortable they are forced to submit. They capture arms, feet, heads, and twist them at strange angles until the unfortunate owner of said body part leaves the ring or rolls onto his back. At one point during the practice, Virdi caught one of his wrestlers in some sort of shoulder lock and flipped him three times in a row, both of them slamming repeatedly into the mat. When he released the hold, both men just lay there for a moment, Virdi’s partner a little stunned, before resuming the practice.

“Sweet Santa,” I said to my photographer Blake McGuire, “They would have killed me!”

Blake nodded solemnly. “This is why I don’t play sports,” he said.

Meanwhile, AJ Gill, a first-year recruit with the body of a young Hercules was busy laying a beatdown on Prabjot, his smaller opponent. I watched him “shoot” for the legs of his teammate, forcing Prabjot to hop backward across the mat with one leg held in  AJ’s vice-like grip.

“Can I take my shirt off now?” AJ said, eying Blake’s camera. It was a strange request, but I didn’t blame him. Maintaining the body of a Greek god takes a lot of work, which is why you don’t see more of them walking around. I wouldn’t be surprised if AJ’s abs alone win him a couple matches next year, as they had better definition than most of YouTube.

The wrestling team finished practice with a brutal combination of suicide lines, burpees, Japanese push-ups, and frog jumps. By the end, even AJ was sweating hard, and “blondie”  Jaskarn Ranu had lost a bit of his mojo. It was a hard practice, both physically and mentally brutal – and they were going to do it all again in the afternoon at Simon Fraser University (where they train with the national team).

I don’t think I fully appreciated the dedication it takes to participate in a CIS varsity team, or the punishment athletes need to handle on a daily basis. UFV wrestling won’t be officially competing in the CIS until next fall, and yet there they were, 7 a.m. on a Tuesday, voluntarily entering the crucible.

Wrestling recently joined the list of varsity teams at UFV, led by co-coaches Arjan Bhullar and Raj Virdi. The team trains in the early mornings.

Interview with co-coach Raj Virdi

So what is it that makes wrestling such a popular sport inthe East Indian community?

Wrestling in the East Indian community – it’s been there for thousands of years in India. It’s where all of us learned how to wrestle, as well as some of our parents and our ancestors. I didn’t have anyone who wrestled in my family, I just started because in the East Indian community wrestling is really popular. That’s why much of the wrestling community [in BC] is East Indian.

Who was your inspiration to take up wrestling?

My inspiration was my high school coach; his name was Memo Marrelo and he got me into wrestling. I was a small skinny kid and he just thought that I should wrestle.

You volunteer to coach here at UFV. You essentially are volunteering a year of your time, volunteering to be here at seven in the morning several days a week. Why would you do this?

I love wrestling, I’ve done it my whole life, and it’s a way of giving back to the sport. There’s a lot of potential here in the Fraser Valley … and our goal is to win the CIS and I’m sure that we will. We’re not doing this just part time, we’re doing this full time, and we’re completely 100 per cent committed.

How did you and head coach Arjun Bhullar meet?

We weren’t really friends in high school, we were from different places … but when we got into university we were on the same varsity team, we had very similar personalities, and we had similar interests. We became best friends, we were on the national team together … I see the guy every single day now. Working with him is awesome because I don’t think I’d want to work with anybody else.

Wrestling seems like a rough sport both mentally and physically. It takes a lot of strategy and gives a lot of pain. How do people excel at it?

Honestly, wrestling is one of the toughest sports in the world … the last two minutes of the match are most crucial usually because that’s when you’re completely exhausted and you have to train your mind especially to push past that and tell your mind and body that you can keep going.

Interview with wrestler Jaskar Ranu

How long have you wrestled?

I’ve been wrestling for five years now. This is my sixth year.

In Abbotsford?

No, in Surrey. The Khalsa Wrestling Club, under Raj Virdi.

Why do you wrestle?

Wrestling builds strong character – it teaches you how to survive out there. Why I wrestle is because you have no one else to depend on except yourself, so all that hard work and dedication you put in is going to pay off. You can’t blame anybody [but yourself] … the more work you put in the more results you’re going to get.

How do you take that kind of abuse day after day?

When you start out it’s hard. One thing I will tell you straight out is that when you start out you break, in the five years that you [wrestle] in university you’re going to break.

When you wrestle all out against your teammates, does it make you get angry with them or do you become better teammates?

I dunno, wrestlers are pretty open as people. You do get pissed off sometimes … but that just makes you closer as friends.

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