Jan. 5 marked the first day back to classes and the students of Ponoka Elementary School were in for a treat.
At 1:30 p.m. in the school’s gymnasium, Olympic wrestler and six time world championship gold medalist, Christine Nordhagen, was there to give an interesting, informative, educational and motivational presentation focusing on the importance of having a positive attitude, making good choices in life at a young age and surrounding yourself with good friends.
Born on June 26, 1971 and having grown up in a small farming community roughly one hour north of Grand Prairie, Alta., Nordhagen did not start wrestling until she was 20 years old. There were no wrestling teams at any of her schools and at the time, girls simply didn’t wrestle. While she was attending university to obtain a bachelor of education degree to become a gym teacher, she took a wrestling class and her natural talent for the sport didn’t go unnoticed. She was soon informed that she was going to have the opportunity to compete in the first ever women’s national championships so she trained hard, won it and soon began training for, competing at and ultimately winning world championships. Her impressive career in sport took her to competitions in Greece, Turkey, Sweeden, Switzerland, France and Germany and to the Olympic stage in Athens to name a few of the many locations. She shared photos with the students who energetically and enthusiastically looked on in awe before doing a mock medal presentation emphasizing positive self-imagery and discussing the importance of positive self-talk – something she recommends everyone do regardless of age and career. She explained that when facing an opponent in a competitive sport, it’s easy to tell yourself that your scared and the result might be embarrassing but what good does that do? If you tell yourself you’re strong and powerful and want to be where you are, the confidence you create for yourself will show and the chance of your success will heighten.
In 1993, her first year competing at the world level, there were fewer than 150 Canadian women registered in wrestling. She came out on top, but prior to the competition, there were times when she wanted to quit. Her coach, Leigh Vierling, who would ultimately become her husband, asked her to attend a presentation he would be giving at an elementary school. That presentation taught her the importance of remaining positive and gave her the confidence she needed and used throughout her career. Now, she gives presentations at elementary schools throughout Alberta – presentation’s that are able to happen because of funding provided by Encana.
Aside from providing inspiration through her words, Nordhagen also physically showcased key wrestling moves on an audience volunteer who suited up in wrestling attire and showed video footage of her final match in the world championships of 2001 before concluding by saying, “If you take nothing away from today, remember you’re born a winner and you’re not born a loser; you’re born a chooser. It’s the choices that you make each day that determine weather or not you will be successful.”
At the time of her retirement in 2005, 4,000 women were registered in the sport proving the tremendous growth that has occurred within the last decade.
Nordhagen now lives and coaches in Calgary where she is raising her family with her husband.
There is a wrestling team at Ponoka Composite High School for anyone interested in considering the sport in the future.