Jillian Gallays learned to overcome adversity in multiple arenas and went on to become a Commonwealth and World Championship medalist and an Olympic athlete in wrestling. Diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, Jillian did not love things academic, but she excelled and loved all sports. In high school she participated in multiple sports including soccer, curling, track and field and wrestling, however it wasn’t until university that wrestling became her number one sport. The wrestling community fit her “mold” of a little quirky and felt like family. Jillian shares had it not been for her wrestling community in university, she may not have lasted past her first term. Her wrestling coach and mom helped keep her motivated the first couple years as she learned to manage university with dyslexia.
In this episode, Jillian shares that simply loving to compete and having fun at every competition helped her to mentally stay relaxed. In 2006, in her second year of university, she attended junior nationals and won. She did not really understand what this meant, until she got pulled aside with a group of wrestlers and was told about their travel schedule leading up to attending worlds. Treating every competition the same, helped her stay relaxed at the important competitions.
Jillian further discusses how wrestling, being a weight class sport, impacted her relationship with food. Early on in her career, she always had to add weight. Later, as she matured and maintained more muscle mass, she had to learn to cut weight. This involved dieting weeks in advance of a competition and then doing drastic things to lose water weight just prior to competition. Wrestling was not an Olympic sport in 2012 and was reintroduced again in 2016 with different weight classes. Previously Jillian competed in the 55-kilo class, and now the classes were 53-kilos and 57-kilos. Jillian felt to be successful, she needed to compete in the 53-kilo class. Trying to maintain her weight at 53 kilos, resulted in her developing negative attitudes towards food and food ruled her life for the next three years. Following the Olympics, she retired from wrestling and went on a two-month extended vacation. Jillian notes that it was this holiday that helped her return to a better relationship with food as she was focused on her travels and food was no longer the reward following a competition.
Jillian had to overcome numerous injuries throughout her career including 4 knee surgeries, dislocated elbows and unhealthy discs in her back. In 2014, Jillian finished with a bronze medal in the World Championships. Three months prior to the Olympic trials, in December 2015, she had a freak accident which resulted in a torn MCL and meniscus. Without a community of believers, she would have given up, she was so mentally discouraged. However, because of her win in 2014 she was able to compete in a wrestle off in February, to get her to the Pan Am qualifier. With this extra time, she was able to fully recuperate and did extremely well at the Olympic qualifier. The downside was she could not maintain her level of fitness and diet regiment for such an extended period and therefore peaked prior to the Olympics. Being a part of team Canada was an amazing experience, but she felt she had failed to meet the expectations of both wrestling Canada and herself. Once again, she recovered from this disappointment with the support of her village.
From Jillian’s experience, she now can relate and understand other’s struggles. There are highs and lows in sport and life, its all about how you process. We cannot control everything, but we can control our responses. It is okay to not control everything.
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