May 16, 2018

Silver medal: done. Danielle Lappage's next challenge: final exams at University of Calgary

Wrestler and Faculty of Law student keeps focus on big picture as she endures athletic roller-coaster
Danielle Lappage wrestling
Danielle Lappage dispatched wrestling opponents at the 2018 Commonwealth Games Archive photos courtesy Wrestling Canada

When Danielle Lappage talks about the "roller-coaster" aspect of her athletic journey, she isn't kidding.

That description, for starters, applies to her performance Friday. Wrestling for the gold medal in the 68-kilogram class at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, she powered to a 3-0 lead — then suffered two take-downs the final 90 seconds to lose by a single point to Blessing Oborundu of Nigeria. Meaning Lappage was forced to settle for silver.

"A couple of lost seconds, of lost focus, on my part," she said. "It's something I have to work on moving forward."

But "roller-coaster" also happens to accurately sum up the last couple of years for the Olds, Alta., native — a crazy stretch of highs and lows.

Lappage had been strong enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Amazing stuff, right? But, dream-shatteringly, while warming up for her first match in Rio de Janeiro, she tore her left hamstring — and her Summer Games hopes were dashed.

But Lappage chose to not surrender. Instead, she upped the challenge. In September 2017, she allowed her wrestling comeback to coincide with her first year of law school at the University of Calgary. Now? She is progressing nicely down both avenues, managing to bolster her education and to qualify for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

"With everything I had to go through — the rehab and the injury — I'm pretty proud of myself for making it back here," said Lappage. "My body, physically, is not holding me back. So I do feel very blessed in that regard."

In Australia, Lappage opened the event by dispatching opponents from Cameroon, India, and Bangladesh, which meant she had a chance to defend her title. Yes, she'd been crowned champion at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

"So I was obviously hoping for the same outcome," said the 27-year-old. "I was really excited about the opportunity, and the experience has been awesome … but the outcome is a little disappointing for me personally."

Lappage said she is going to try to not let her late-bout letdown dampen the achievement — her successful mission from Rio to the Gold Coast.

"I have to look at the bigger picture," she said. "I have to be proud, right? I have to keep reminding myself because I am being super hard on myself right now."

Between the heart-breaking trip to Rio and the trials for the Commonwealth Games in November 2017, more than a year passed without a single match. But, buoyed by the confidence of her teammates and coaches, she had decided to push ahead.

"I was very nervous to commit to (the trials) because I didn't feel that good," said Lappage. "I didn't think I'd be able to come back at all, let alone make it back to this tournament."

Like her teammates, Lappage returns to Calgary on Monday. Unlike her teammates, she has a final exam in constitutional law scheduled for Wednesday. She's got four more exams in May.

Her next competition is the World Cup selection tourney in Toronto in June. And everyone knows what will happen in 2020.

For Lappage, the idea of taking another run at the Olympics had been up in the air. Her vibe? Distinctly noncommittal.

"Tokyo was just too far in the future for me (to contemplate)," she said, "so I just kept telling people to ask me about it after the Commonwealth Games are over. And now that it is over, I will have to make that call.

"I think the call is, 'Yeah, I have to try to do that.' That'll be a perfect ending to my wrestling story, to this roller-coaster story of mine."

Danielle Lappage

Danielle Lappage is a student at UCalgary Law