Trip to remember

As the 2015-16 Brock College wrestling season came to a close, so too did the impressive career of Carlene Sluberski.

But before she hung up her wrestling shoes, the 2009 Fredonia Central School graduate got to experience wrestling at the highest level as she attended the 2016 Rio Olympics as a practice partner for Brock teammate Michelle Fazzari, who competed in the 58kg division.

“It was a really neat experience,” Sluberski said. “I was training for Olympic trials in the United States. I did not do well there, but Michelle asked if I wanted to be her training partner and I said, ‘Heck yea.’ It’s a nice way to go out.”

Sluberski stayed in Rio for a majority of the Olympics, only missing the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony.

Though Fazzari did not fair too well in the Olympics, she was in a tough weight class, which featured four-time gold medalist Kaori Ichi from Japan.

“You see how hard they work,” Sluberski said of all the athletes and what they sacrificed to compete at the Olympics. “Michelle’s career goal was to make it to the Olympics. It’s hard to be upset with losing when you have done everything you possibly can to be successful. It’s still a tough thing to come to terms with – losing and putting so much effort into it. Michelle wouldn’t have done anything differently. It just wasn’t meant to be for her, but it was an extremely tough weight class.”

It was a unique scenario for Sluberski, an American, as Fazzari was in Rio representing Team Canada.

“I knew everyone on the Canadian team and everyone from the US,” Sluberski said. “I was there with Canada, but I was cheering for both. I had to wear Canadian clothing. I didn’t bring any US gear.”

Being a training partner, Sluberski did not get much time to take in all the sights and sounds of the Olympics, as she was helping Fazzari during workouts and helping cut weight. Sluberski did get a chance to watch the men’s synchronized diving. She was also set to attend the men’s track and field finals, but plans changed. Team Canada stayed at the Performance Center, which was a few minutes away from the Olympic Village. Sluberski also noted safety was never a concern.

“We did get to walk into Olympic Village,” Sluberski said. “Rio was so huge, it’s impossible to see everything in a short amount of time. They had Army stationed out all over the place. I have been to World Championships for wrestling. It was just like that but more buildings where other events were going on. It was huge. There were people all over the place. Traffic was crazy. People from Canada would see us wearing our gear and they would say hi. People from states would say hi, too. It was a friendly environment.”

While Sluberski has seen many title matches at World Championships, she noted watching a gold medal match or a bronze medal match in the Olympics added an extra element to the intensity of each match.

“It was really exciting,” she said of the medal rounds. “I almost cried just seeing it from that perspective. For the United States, (Helen Maroulis) won the 53kg gold. You were excited for her, but you feel so sad for the girl she beat (Japan’s Saori Yoshida). You wanted to cry for both them.”

Fortunately for Sluberski and her team, everyone came home healthy. Team Canada was well fed thanks to a nutritionist. During their stay, the nutritionist cautioned athletes to stay away from eating the pork in Rio as it may have more steroids in the meat and could come back as a positive drug test. And though Sluberski said she does have a couple mosquito bites, she is not concerned about Zika.

While at Brock, Sluberski was named the 2015 Female Athlete of the Year. As a senior, she helped the Badgers become the first women’s team to capture five consecutive CIS national wrestling titles. In high school, Sluberski is remembered for her impressive run to the state championship match at the Times Union Center where she placed second.

Now, she has completed her college degree with a major in Kinesiology and is ready to move on from wrestling. She began her post-wrestling career doing activities she has wanted to do for years. And it began with a busy summer as she traveled to Washington for a wedding, visited friends in California and watched her younger brother, Sean, graduate from the Air Force in Texas.

“My body is beat up,” she admitted. “I want to feel better. I have been cutting weight for eight years. I want to be normal. Wrestling isn’t going give me a career. I was working with younger girls. I would do that kind of thing.”

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