Tonya Verbeek life and biography

Tonya Verbeek picture, image, poster

Tonya Verbeek biography

Date of birth : 1977-08-14
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Grimsby, Ontario, Canada
Nationality : Canadian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-06-17
Credited as : Wrestler, silver medal at 2004 Summer Olympics,

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Tonya Verbeek (born August 14, 1977) is a Canadian wrestler.

She was born in Grimsby, Ontario. She took up wrestling in grade eleven and was undefeated throughout high school in Beamsville, Ontario. She trains at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and is coached by Marty Calder.
She won a silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in freestyle women's wrestling in the 55 kg category.

When a smiling Tonya Verbeek accepted her silver medal at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games, few would have guessed that she was, at one time, ready to give up on wrestling. If it hadn't been for Verbeek's mother, who persuaded her daughter to persevere in the sport that she had taken up in high school, she might not have been standing on the podium.

Born in Grimsby, on Ontario's Niagara Peninsula, and raised in nearby Beamsville, Verbeek was an active, athletic teenager who focused at first on team sports. In high school, she played basketball and volleyball, participated in gymnastics and belonged to the school's cross-country club. She was also a member of the Lincoln Leapers, a competitive skipping group and earned pocket money by babysitting and working at an ice cream parlour.

Her direction changed when she was in Grade 11, however, and the school announced that it was starting a girls' wrestling team. Verbeek and a friend decided to give the sport a try. Her parents, Jerry and Kathy Verbeek, were dubious about the choice --- and hoped that wrestling would prove to be a passing fancy.

No such luck. Their daughter clearly had an aptitude for the sport. "Two weeks later, I was in my first tournament, and I won," Verbeek told Garry McKay of the Hamilton Spectator. "I loved it. I like the competitive aspect, it's aggressive and it's an individual sport."

After that first tournament, Verbeek continued winning, wrestling her way to the Ontario Federation of Secondary School Athletics championship in 1994. She also joined the Niagara Wrestling Club and won the 1994 Canadian under-20 championship in the 57-kilogram weight class. Her winning streak was stopped only at the national senior championships, where she placed second. This defeat stiffened the teen's resolve to work even harder the next year.

And she did, winning the 1995 OFSSA championship, the under-20 championship and the senior national title. As Canadian champion, she earned a trip to the world championships, where she placed a very respectable fifth.

With this brilliant start, the teenager's future as an international wrestler looked promising. "An Olympic gold is my goal," she told Mike Hanley of the Hamilton Spectator.

Because nearby Brock University had an outstanding wrestling team, Verbeek chose to enrol there to study recreation and leisure with a view to working with children with special needs. At Brock, she led the school's women's wrestling team, winning several university championships and earning top awards for university athletics. At the same time, however, she was unable to repeat her 1995 breakthrough at the national championships. Though she came close, she was constantly frustrated in her attempt to recapture the Canadian title in her weight class. As a result, she was ineligible to compete at the world championships.

Discouraged by her inability to repeat her early success, Verbeek considered giving up the sport. By then, she had earned an honours degree in recreation and a teaching certificate, and she wondered whether the long hours she was devoting to training were worth the effort.

That's when she confided her doubts to her mother, who told her not to worry, that she would win when it counted.

Kathy's words encouraged Verbeek to reassess her level of dedication to wrestling. "There was other things going on, and I thought it's not happening for me, so why am I bothering," she told Canadian Press. "But it was really because I wasn't training as hard and committing myself. It was all or nothing, and I had to decide. So I decided to pick it up and started making strides."

Verbeek's renewed dedication sparked a string of top results in the years leading up to the 2004 Olympic Games, which were to include women's wrestling as an event for the first time. In 2003, for example, she placed second at the national championships, the Pan American Games and the World Cup. More tellingly, though, she won gold at the Pan American Championships and a number of other top-flight meets. And in 2004, she won the Canada Cup and the Austrian Ladies Open.

Clearly, Verbeek was rounding into form --- until an ankle injury nearly put paid to her hopes of competing at the Olympics. Unable to participate in the Canadian trials, she was forced to apply to Wrestling Canada for a second chance to make the team.

Though Wrestling Canada gave her that chance, its requirements were stiff. To join the Canadian Olympic team, Verbeek would first need to win the Canadian championship in her weight class, which had changed to 55 kilograms. And as Canadian champion, she would, of course, need to qualify at the international Olympic trials.

Verbeek took the first step on this path in February 2004, when she defeated her longtime rival, Jennifer Ryz of British Columbia, to win the Canadian title for the first time since 1995. "It took me nine years to get to the top in Canada," she told reporters after the Olympic final. "In '95, I was number 1 and haven't been since. But a lot of things happen for a reason and it has made me a stronger person. I wouldn't change it."

After winning the championship, Verbeek called her parents. "She said, 'Mom, you were right," Kathy told Canadian Press. "And of course, I said, 'Moms are always right.'"

With her confidence boosted by the win at the Canadian championships, Verbeek was anxious to prove herself at the women's Olympic qualifying tournament in Tunisia. Unfortunately, she finished a disappointing sixth, a placing that wasn't high enough to guarantee a trip to the Olympics.

Verbeek had one last chance, however. A month later, she travelled to the Pre-Olympic Test Event in Madrid, Spain. There, she won the bronze medal --- and secured a place at the Olympics.

In retrospect, Verbeek says, her up-and-down journey to the Olympics was more challenging than the Olympic tournament itself. "My biggest accomplishment was getting there and my Olympic trials," she told Scott Rosts of Niagara This Week. "That was my moment ... knowing I finally overcame the weaknesses and barriers."

As someone who had narrowly squeaked into the Olympic tournament, Verbeek wasn't one of the Canadian athletes touted by the media as a potential medallist. But when she made it out of the pool with two convincing wins, made it through the quarter-finals, and then defeated Ida-Theres Karlsson of Sweden in the semi-final, people sat up and took notice of the unheralded wrestler.

In the final, however, Verbeek found herself up against two-time world champion Saori Yoshida, a Japanese wrestler who has never been defeated in international competition and who was considered a shoo-in to win the gold medal. Though she fought valiantly, the Canadian was defeated 6-0.

Though she came away with a silver medal, Verbeek wasn't about to accept that losing to Yoshida was inevitable. "There are some strategic things I maybe could have done a little bit different," she told reporters immediately after the match. "But I really did give it my all. I'd say I'm happy, but not satisfied. I don't feel fully satisfied with my performance, but I know there's more to come."

Marty Calder, Verbeek's coach and a former Olympic wrestler himself, was more upbeat about her achievement. "How many people go through what she has done, sit on the outskirts, not get the opportunity to compete at the world championships, and then do this?" he asked reporters. "She didn't give up on her training --- and a lot of people would have. She stayed diligent, she stayed with it. But it's about performing under pressure. It's about peaking at the right time. It's about doing it on your day. It's about a little bit of luck."

Verbeek told Rosts that the silver medal has made her even hungrier and that she is looking forward to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she hopes to fulfil her dream of winning gold. For now, though, she is focusing on next year's world championships.

As for Verbeek's parents, they have been completely won over to their daughter's choice of wrestling as a sport. "We were just hoping she would phase it out," Jerry told Joanne Ireland of the Calgary Herald after watching his daughter's Olympic performance from the stands, "but I'm glad she didn't."

AWARDS

Female Athlete of the Year, Brock University, 2001 and 2002; Athletics Director's Award, Brock University, 2003 and 2004.

CAREER

Won Ontario high school wrestling championship and Canadian under-20 championship, 1994 and 1995; won Canadian national championship and placed fifth at world championships, 57-kilogram class, 1995; after this, went through five years in which she placed second or third at Canadian championships and didn't make it back to world championships; won gold medal, Gilbert Schuab Tournament, 2001; won bronze medal, World University Championships, 2002; finished fourth, World Cup of Women's Wrestling, 2002; won gold medal, Pan American Championships, 2003; won silver medal, Pan American Games, 2003; won silver medal, World Cup of Women's Wrestling, 2003; won gold medal, New York Athletic Club Wrestling Tournament and Hans von Zons Tournament, 2003; won gold medal, Austrian Ladies Open and Canada Cup, 2004; won Canadian championship, 2004; won bronze medal, Pre-Olympic Test Event, 2004; won silver medal, 55-kilogram class, Athens Summer Olympic Games, 2004.

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