Cree wrestler has her eyes set on Olympic gold

Heading home from Banting Middle School in Coquitlam, B.C. Justina Di Stasio would look through a window at children tumbling, cartwheeling and doing backwards rolls and wanted to join. 

“I thought it was gymnastics,” said Di Stasio. 

It was actually a wrestling team practising and that was the beginning of a nearly 20-year journey that has landed the 31-year-old a spot on Team Canada for the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

Di Stasio, a member of Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, qualified for the Olympics earlier this year by taking down Argentina’s Linda Machuca in the 76-kilogram division at the Pan American Qualifiers. 

A woman with brown hair in a top knot smiles at someone off camera. She uses white athletic tape to tape her feet, while sitting on blue gym matts.
Justina Di Stasio is a member of Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba and lives in Vancouver. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Di Stasio said she was immediately good at wrestling when she started and was wrestling kids two years older when she was in Grade 6.

But as she got older, competitions got harder. Then, in her first year wrestling at Simon Fraser University, she competed at the World Championships. 

“I watched a girl from Russia win the World Championships and I had gotten knocked out of the tournament pretty early,” said Di Stasio. 

Di Stasio said the girl’s technique was so refined, she wanted to be as good as her. 

Di Stasio tried for the Olympics in both 2016 and 2020 but came up short. 

“Ever since then I was like, ‘I won’t stop wrestling until I go to the Olympics,'” she said. 

WATCH | Justina Di Stasio’s road to the Olympics:

Cree wrestler Justina Di Stasio is ready to win at the Olympics

1 day ago

Duration 2:17

Justina Di Stasio is getting ready for the biggest match of her life in Paris. CBC Indigenous reporter Jackie McKay catches up with her at practice.

Now Di Stasio and her coach Raj Virdi have a new goal: winning. 

“That’s what we talk about every single day is going out and winning the Olympics,” said Virdi, who has been working with Di Stasio for about five years. 

Virdi said the next two months are crucial in getting ready for the Olympics. 

“I don’t know if a lot of people understand how much work and effort and pain and suffering and everything that comes with trying to go to the Olympics,” said Virdi. 

Norway House Cree Nation has also shown her support.

“They’re backing me financially, which takes a huge load off me mentally and then just like the constant encouragement. I’m getting messages all the time just checking in and support and that means a lot,” said Di Stasio. 

Justina holds a beaded madallion that says Norway House Cree Nation in read beads.
A member of Norway House Cree Nation made a beaded medallion for Di Stasio. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

Di Stasio said she is focusing on getting one per cent better every day, and writing “2024 Olympic champion” in her journal, a practice she has done for years. 

Before a match, she’ll sit in the venue and listen to the crowd, getting used to the energy. To help calm her nerves, she throws on a playlist of a mishmash of songs from Mac Miller, Middle by Maren Morris, and No Fear by Terry Clark. 

“I just say to myself, ‘I’ll do anything to win the Olympics’ and it’s almost like an extra push to just keep doing my conditioning harder, lift my weight, or keep wrestling even though I’m absolutely gassed,” said Di Stasio. 

The wrestling events at the Paris Olympics are scheduled to start Aug. 5.


Posted in CBC