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Associated Alumni

UNB’s world-class wrestling champs

Samantha Stewart and Allyssa Cleaves

UNB’s Allyssa Cleaves (BScEng’18) and Samantha Stewart (BRSS’13, BA’14, MEd’18) embody discipline and perseverance as they balance demanding athletic careers with their education.

This past October, Ms. Cleaves and Ms. Stewart represented Canada at the 2016 International University Sports Federation (FISU) World University Championships in Turkey. They competed with wrestlers from across the globe and both brought home medals.

Ms. Cleaves, originally from St. Stephen, N.B., has always been active in sports. A competitive figure skater for nine years, she was involved in rugby, soccer, gymnastics and cheerleading. Wrestling was never on her radar until she decided to try it with her friends – as a joke.

“I wasn’t serious about it at all,” she says.

Her coach encouraged her to get more involved and she began competing in high school, making wrestling her focus in grade nine. It was both the mental and physical challenge that drew her to the sport.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” she says. “It can be mentally exhausting to push yourself. When your body is telling you to stop, you have to find the drive and motivation to keep training.”

It was that drive that helped her win gold at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Wrestling Championships this winter, where she was named Outstanding Female Wrestler and a First Team All-Canadian. In April, she was awarded UNB’s Colin B. MacKay Shield as the Varsity Reds Female Athlete of the Year.

Stumbling into wrestling is a pretty common story, says Ms. Stewart, originally from London, O.N. It was the guys on her high school football team who convinced her to try wrestling. After her first tournament she knew she’d found her sport.

A self-proclaimed “Olympic fan-girl”, Ms. Stewart remembers the excitement she felt watching Canadian Tonya Verbeek win silver at the 2004 Olympics.

“It’s possible that as a Canadian woman you can be successful in wrestling and reach that high level and be the best in the world,” she says.

Now, world-class athletes like Verbeek have gone from being Ms. Cleaves and Ms. Stewart’s idols to their peers and friends as they train together and support each other at tournaments.

Last December, Ms. Stewart won Olympic trials, but after an injury petition she became the alternate. That setback didn’t stop her from making history as the first New Brunswick athlete to win across all three styles of wrestling at the Senior Pan-American Championships in Texas or from winning gold at the 2016 Wrestling Canada Senior Canadian Championships, where she was named Outstanding Female Wrestler.

“There’s been a lot of highs and lows, but I think we’re both now thinking long-term, 2020, and what we want to do within that quadrennial,” says Stewart.

There’s no slowing down in sight for these two. Next summer Cleaves and Stewart will represent New Brunswick at the Francophone Games. They have their eyes on the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and the Pan Am Games in 2019, but in the meantime you’ll find them training for the 2017 United World Wrestling Senior Championships taking place next October in Paris.

“Neither one of us has been to senior world’s yet, so that would be really big,” says Stewart.

Back to Alumni News Direct - November 2016