Chris McIsaac earns gold medal in 61-kg wrestling division
Dave Dawson/The Packet & Times Orillia’s Chris McIsaac is shown competing at the Georgian Bay wrestling championship in 2015 while he was a student at Patrick Fogarty. McIsaac, now a student at Brock University, went undefeated at the 2017 U Sports Wrestling Championship in Winnipeg this weekend to earn the gold medal in the 61-kilogram division.
Orillia's Chris McIsaac is Canada's top collegiate wrestler in his weight class. The powerful 5'7" technically-proficient wrestler went undefeated at the 2017 U Sports Wrestling Championship in Winnipeg on the weekend to earn the gold medal in the 61-kilogram division, helping Brock University sweep to the team title at the national event.
"It's a real sense of accomplishment knowing how hard I've worked to get here," said McIsaac, who won back-to-back provincial gold medals in his final two years at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School, where he helped start the school's wrestling program. "It feels great."
After dominating the sport in high school, McIsaac opted to go to Brock University which boasts one of the nation's top wrestling programs. In fact, the program is so good, he didn't make the team last year in his rookie campaign.
"If I went to Guelph or McMaster, I probably would have got the 61-kilogram spot right away, but I wouldn't have earned it, whereas coming to Brock, I knew it would make me a better wrestler and help me improve," said McIsaac, 19. "Last year, there were two other guys that were better than me in my weight class. I wasn't disappointed I didn't make it - that's why I wanted to go to Brock."
He said Brock's deep stable of talented wrestlers provides him with top-flight training partners. "Easily, the team as a whole - the combination of coaching and training partners - is why I'm where I am," said McIsaac. "If I train with someone who scores points on me a lot or beats me up, I'm only going to get better."
Coaching is also a big factor, he said. "I don't think there is a better coach in our country than Marty Calder," said McIsaac, who appreciates the coach's vast technical knowledge and track record as a successful wrestler. "But he also just brings this intensity into the room. He picks you up and motivates you and... he pushes and pushes you to want to make yourself better."
It's worked. McIsaac has been unbeatable. Over the past four weeks, he has struck gold at the Guelph Open, Junior Provincials, Senior Provincials, the Ontario University Association (OUA) championship and U Sports Nationals. It's been a coming-out party of sorts for the self-described wrestling fanatic.
"I think it lets people know I'm here and I'm in this weight class and you better watch out," he said with a laugh. "When I was younger, I'd see a certain name on a bout sheet, and it was kind of intimidating. My teammates have told me that now, my opponents feel that way when they see they're wrestling Chris McIsaac. It's kind of surreal. It's also gratifying to know that what you've been doing is working."
He hopes it keeps working. His next big test will come at next month's Junior Nationals, which will be hosted by Brock. "With the roll I'm on right now, I feel confident," he said. A win at Junior Nationals would give him a ticket to the world championships this summer. "I've been wrestling for 11 years and I've never gone to a world championship, so that's the goal."
That's the short-term goal. Like many on Brock's vaunted wrestling team, he has aspirations of representing his country at the Olympics. "You know what, half of my teammates at Brock have the Tokyo 2020 logo as their background on their phone," said McIsaac. "It's definitely something I think about."
Sadly, for McIsaac, there is no 61-kilo weight class at the Olympics. He would have to wrestle at the 65-kilo division, which is a big jump. "I would have to bulk up and get a little bit bigger over the next few years, but I could do it," he said.
One person who could help him get there is Hank Ilesic. The former multiple Grey Cup-winning CFL legend has been training elite-level athletes at his Wyandotte Street gym in Orillia for the past several years. McIsaac credits Ilesic for helping him add muscle, strength and speed.
"He is absolutely insane in the best of ways," said McIsaac. "He can push you like no one else. I don't like a conventional gym, lifting weights... With Hank, you're pushing giant tractor tires, flipping tires, whaling away on sledge hammers, ropes... it's crazy training and I love it."
McIsaac admits when he was younger, he was a "scrawny little kid" who relied on superior technique to win his matches. Thanks, in part, to his workouts with Ilesic, he is much stronger and quicker. "Last summer I worked out with Hank regularly and at my first tournament this year, guys I had wrestled against before told me they couldn't believe how much stronger I was," he said. "It really works."
While many have helped the talented teen succeed, his parents have been most instrumental. "My dad (who also wrestled at the high-school level) has always supported me," he said. "In 11 years, I can't remember the last time my dad missed a tournament."
McIsaac thought that streak would end when he began his quest for national gold at the Axworthy RecPlex at the University of Winnipeg. Much to his surprise, his family flew out to be in his corner. "I didn't know they were coming. They surprised me," said McIsaac. "It meant so much to me. That's true love right there. The things they do for me are absolutely endless. I'm so thankful."