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Wrestling for wellness

A research project in Conne River takes on a life of its own

By Michelle Osmond

Kira Drew had never considered trying wrestling or boxing before.

The 17-year-old from St. Anneway Kegnamogwom School in Conne River, N.L., was introduced to the sports when researchers from the Faculty of Medicine visited her school and gave them a “fun and short lesson on boxing, kick boxing, and wrestling” in her physical education class. She signed up.

Kira Drew taking part in the wrestling and boxing program set up in Conne River as part of a research project.
Kira Drew is the captain of the Conne River wrestling team.
Photo: Dustin Silvey

“Wrestling seemed like fun and a good form of exercising,” said Ms. Drew. “It was also a new and different sport to try out other than our school’s normal volleyball and basketball, so I was excited to do that.”

Sea-Hawks wrestler

One of the researchers was Dustin Silvey. Mr. Silvey has been combat training for 25 years, more than half his life, and wrestled for the Memorial Sea-Hawks varsity team when he first arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador from British Columbia. He came to Memorial to enrol in the kinesiology master’s program; once graduated, he stayed on to pursue a PhD in medicine and is now in his second year.

Mr. Silvey and Dr. Adam Dubrowski, associate professor of emergency medicine, Faculty of Medicine, met at Avalon Boxing, a club Dr. Dubrowski started, a couple of years ago. They came up with the idea to run a wrestling and boxing program in a rural community to help increase youth health and wellness for kids Grade 6 and up.

“Conne River was really supportive. They’ve been excited about this since day one.” — Dustin Silvey

“It was something that we had both done for years and we wanted to share it with youth that might not already have the opportunity to try it out,” Mr. Silvey said. “From there, it blossomed into a research project.”

Under Dr. Dubrowski’s supervision, Mr. Silvey ran the research program in the First Nation community from January-May 2016.

“Conne River was really supportive,” he said. “They’ve been excited about this since day one. Sports increase physical and mental well-being and help with issues like depression, suicide and family cohesion. Kids are less active than they were 20 years ago and depression and suicide are more common. There’s a big genetic component to a lot of sports like basketball and volleyball, but with wrestling and boxing there no genetic component so it’s more accessible. It’s also low cost for parents.”

Conne River student Deanna Langdon taking part in the wrestling and boxing program.
Conne River student Deanna Langdon practising her boxing skills.
Photo: Dustin Silvey

Quick Start Fund

Mr. Silvey applied for, and received, a Quick Start Fund for Public Engagement to run part of the program. With that, they picked four students as champions and brought them to St. John’s, where they trained with the Memorial varsity wrestling team, the Avalon Boxing Club, Rock Athletics and MAX Athletics.

Even though the research data has all been collected, kids are still wrestling and boxing in Conne River. The men taught the community’s physical education teacher how to run the program so it could be sustained.

Mr. Silvey used a portion of the Quick Start Fund for Public Engagement to create a photo exhibit of his time in the community, titled A Healthy Fight. The photo exhibit will take place on Oct. 14 from 6-9 p.m. in the Medical Education Centre atrium at the Faculty of Medicine.

A poster for the A Healthy Fight exhibit.

‘A leader and a mentor’

As for Ms. Drew, she has stuck with the program and says she’s gained much from it. She says, as captain of the wrestling team, it’s shown her that she is capable of leadership and mentorship, since she has to set up practices, run practices and give advice to the younger students.

“I have grown to love the sport, and hope to pursue it further when I attend university at Memorial.” — Kira Drew

“It also introduced me to a healthier way of living and increased my mental wellness,” she said. “This program has also helped me open up to my peers and increase my public speaking skills, as I wouldn’t be able to run wrestling practices without it. One of the biggest things that surprised me about this experience is the great interest in the sports by my fellow students.

“When we say how many are on the team and are interested, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you compare it to the population of our community and our school it shows how much we enjoy it,” she continued. “It was beyond what I expected. I thought I was going to learn just a few things about the sports and move on in my high school career, but I have made plenty of friends, and I have grown to love the sport, and hope to pursue it further when I attend university at Memorial.”

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