Wrestler Angel Besskkaystare didn’t expect to take centre stage on Tuesday, but she’s grateful for the opportunity.
Besskkaystare grew up in Wollaston Lake, but moved to Prince Albert as a teenager where she took up wrestling. Years later, Besskkaystare is headed to the Canada Summer Games where she’ll represent Saskatchewan not only as a wrestler, but as the province’s flag bearer.
“I didn’t believe my coach (when she gave me the news), probably for five seconds, until she kept telling me,” Besskkaystare said in a phone interview following the announcement in Regina. “I was listening to her and I didn’t really know what she meant by flag bearer. Then she told me how it was going to work and she told me I was going to lead Saskatchewan at Niagara. I just couldn’t believe it because I didn’t know this was going to happen. Nobody said anything.”
Besskkaystare’s coach, Roxanne Richards of the Prince Albert Wrestling Club, nominated her for the role of flagbearer. Richards coached her for the last four years, and described her as one of the most hard-working and humble wrestlers she’s ever met.
“I knew that if people knew her like we know her, she would get the honour,” Richards said. “She really deserves it.
“I’m really happy that she has the opportunity to do this, not only for her, but for her community.”
Richards said Besskkaystare has always been proud to be a Dene girl from Wollaston Lake, a community of roughly 1,500 people in the northeast corner of Saskatchewan.
She grew up in the area, but moved to Prince Albert as a teenager where she attended St. Mary High School. Upon arrival, Besskkaystare found it difficult to get settled, and was frequently homesick.
A wrestling coach encouraged her to join the wrestling team in Grade 9, and she credits the sport and the club with helping her adjust to her new community.
“I didn’t really like going to school until I started wrestling,” Besskkaystare said. “Wrestling just kept me busy. I just started liking it.
While wrestling has been rewarding, the path hasn’t been easy. Besskkaystare committed to the University of Saskatchewan’s wrestling program in July, but battled ankle and back injuries during her high school career to get there.
She was nervous trying out for Team Saskatchewan, but kept telling herself she had to make the team to inspire the youth back home in Wollaston Lake.
“Normally kids in my reserve try out other activities, but I don’t think anyone has ever tried out for wrestling,” she explained. “I just wanted to show them wrestling is a good sport too, because nobody in my community does it.”
Besskkaystare is the first resident of Wollaston Lake to compete at the Canada Summer Games. She won a gold medal in Greco-Roman style wrestling at the 2022 Canadian Wrestling Championships in Calgary earlier this year to go along with her high school and provincial championships.
Despite wracking up the wins, Besskkaystare is staying humble heading into the Canada Summer Games.
“I’m just aiming to be the best I can,” she said. “I was told this is going to be one of the hardest tournaments that most wrestlers will face. I’m just hoping I can give it all I got and experience new things out there, because I’ve never been to Ontario before.”
The opening ceremony for the 2022 Canada Summer Games takes place in Niagara, Ont. on Saturday, Aug. 6. Saskatchewan will send 377 athletes to the games, as well as 86 coaches, managers, and support staff.