Esquimalt wrestler finds success on the mat

The moment someone yells “Go!” a look of calm and determination washes over Hunter Grant's face as he steps onto the wrestling mat.

Esquimalt High School student Hunter Grant (right) teaches Rockheights middle school student Tyler Shaffer a wrestling move during practice Wednesday night.

The moment Esquimalt High’s athletic director yells “Go!” a look of calm and determination washes over Hunter Grant’s face as he steps onto the wrestling mat.

Grant is methodical as he eyes his opponent on the blue wrestling mats in the school’s gym, responding to their every move strategically and analytically.

His determination and willingness to win has become a skill he’s developed over the past four years.

Grant originally came to Esquimalt High in Grade 9 to play rugby, but after discovering the school had a wrestling team, decided it would be a good way to stay fit while he wasn’t playing rugby.

Shortly after, he competed in a novice wrestling tournament against athletes from around Vancouver Island and — without much prior experience — won.

“Looking back at the matches, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” laughed the now 17-year-old in his final year of high school. “There wasn’t a lot of technique, it was mostly about strength and endurance going at each other. At the time, it was the single most exhausting experience of my life.”

Since then, Grant’s passion for the sport has flourished, and he’s learned to refine his technique. However, finding someone to compete against or practice with on the Island can be a challenge for the six-foot-five, 265-pound student. When he wants to test out new moves, he heads to jiujitsu classes to take on larger opponents.

But during competitions, Grant doesn’t hold anything back.

Throughout the seven-month season, he competes in tournaments almost every weekend and has continued to dominate on the mat. Last season, he picked up bronze in the heavy weight class during provincials in Abbotsford. He also went on to win gold in greco and silver in freestyle wrestling during nationals in Calgary.

“I’ve found it really is a psychological game, just because there’s so much pressure on you,” said Grant, who competes in the 110 to 130 kilogram weight class. “That can be really challenging at times. That makes it really rewarding and it also creates a deep level of respect for people.”

The school’s athletic director Mike Thompson said Grant is extremely coachable. He takes in everything he’s told, analyzes it and translates it on the mat.

“This type of sport can be very reactionary, and when you get someone on the mat who can actually break down the thought process of technique, without just reacting physically, you get someone like Hunter and that’s what sets him apart from other kids, especially kids in his weight class,” he said.

This year, Grant is trying his hand at coaching, teaching middle school students from Rockheights and Shoreline the art of wrestling twice a week — something he says helps him manage his own pressure.

Up next, Grant will compete in War on the Floor this weekend, his first live tournament of the season on the Mainland.