Beyond wrestling: High school athlete finds “family” in sport

Kennikahontesha Montour is used to being told she doesn’t look like a wrestler.

The 16-year-old captain of the Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) women’s wrestling team, who once pinned an opponent with a headlock within 14 seconds of a match, says being in a traditionally male dominated sport, she’s had to deal with a lot of stereotypes.

“They’re kind of agitating at times just because what is a wrestler supposed to look like?” remarked the high school senior. “Just because I am a girl doesn’t mean I can’t wrestle. I don’t really let [their comments] phase me.”

From Kahnawake, Quebec , Montour has four-times been Greater Montreal Athletics Association Wrestling Champion, won bronze at the 2014 North American Indigenous Games, and placed fifth at the 2015 National Championships. Now in her fifth year on the KSS wrestling team she enjoys being someone the younger athletes can look to for advice.

“As captain, it’s nice to be the person newer athletes turn to if they need help with a move or anything,” said Montour. “When they’re just starting out sometimes they’re going to have trouble. I just tell them, ‘You’ve got to keep going and eventually you’ll get better, you just have to put in the work.’”

Montour is gearing up for a busy summer ahead, as she will be competing at the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games as well as the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg. She says her motivation to continue to strive to be the best wrestler she can, comes from her biggest fan—her father, who passed away just over a year ago.

“He was always so excited for me to compete and always wanted to come watch,” recalled Montour. “His friends say he always talked about how good a wrestler I was. I just want to keep wrestling for him, because I know how happy it made him.”

Montour says she is thankful for her peers on the wrestling team who were a special comfort to her during her time of mourning.

“When [my father passed away], it was just easier to be around my teammates,” said Montour. “I just wanted to be doing something I love with the people that care about me. They’re like my family.”

More than looking forward to competing at Toronto 2017 NAIG, Montour says she looks forward to the celebration of Indigenous cultures. She believes Indigenous people should continue to fight to keep their culture alive, something she has learned to do through studying and speaking her Kahnawake language whenever possible.

“I used to hear the language through my great grandmother a lot, but she passed away and I didn’t hear it as much after that,” said Montour. “Now I try to speak the language as much as possible, especially with the elders in the community. If we don’t speak it, it will die.”

After graduating high school this year, Montour plans to attend Vanier College in Quebec City where she will study nursing. As for her wrestling career, she says she will continue to fight to become the best athlete she can be.

“My future goal is to make the Canada Team and to do well at Nationals,” said Montour. “I just want to make sure wrestling is always in my life.”