Ontario English Catholic Teachers

Jessie MacDonald

Most of us had at least one teacher who encouraged us to reach our potential. Jessie MacDonald, French teacher with the Niagara Catholic District School Board and Freestyle World Wrestling Champion, certainly remembers hers.

“One of my favourite teachers in high school was starting up a wrestling team,” says MacDonald. “My best friend wanted to join and I went with her. I remember crying to the teacher that I didn’t want to compete and I was going to be the team manager. He said I had to wrestle in one tournament and if I didn’t like it I could be the manager. I won that tournament and just kept going.”

Her commitment has continued to this day. Before a full day of teaching, MacDonald does 60 to 90 minutes of cardio or circuit training. After work, she heads to Brock University to train on the mats. This training is followed by a third workout. In order to keep on top of her training and work obligations, MacDonald has to stay structured.

“I sit down on Saturdays and focus on my lesson planning,” she says. “If I wasn’t so organized, I would be stressed.”

MacDonald says she started wrestling late. “Many people I wrestle against have been training since they were four years old,” she says. “For some of them, wrestling is their livelihood. If they win, their country takes care of them and that means they are out to kill.”

In a sport where one wrong move or foot placement can cost you the match, MacDonald hopes they play fair, and she remains composed in the ring through the hair pulling and biting. “It’s a mental game too,” she adds.

MacDonald’s wrestling career consists of highs and lows. In 2012, she narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic Games by a loss in overtime. She overcame the disappointment by winning gold at the 2012 World Championships, making her one of only three women in Canada to have won a world wrestling title. MacDonald attributes her success to good teachers.

“Having a coach I liked really helped,” she says. “I wanted to make him happy. He wasn’t the most experienced, but he put in so much time — he went the extra mile.”

Her experience with her former coach shaped her belief in the positive influence teachers can have on their students. “I believe that if there is one student you inspire, then your whole career was worth it,” says MacDonald.

At the Pan American Championships last July, MacDonald dislocated her arm, requiring surgery to reattach the ligaments and then extensive therapy. “I am disappointed I will not be going to the Pan American Games this year, but the Olympics has been a dream of mine forever,” she says.

The ability to overcome adversity she has demonstrated throughout her career will be an asset as she begins preparations for the Olympics in Rio in 2016. Rest assured, OECTA will be cheering on MacDonald as she strives for the one title that means the most to her — Olympian.