Saturday, August 6, 2016
Next Round: A Young Athlete's Journey to Gold, by John Spray. Pajama Press, 2016. $11.95 ages 9 and up
As we look forward to the opening of the Summer Olympics I wanted to share this story of one of our young athletes, whose journey has been a most difficult one.
John Spray writes the story of the Chechen Wolf, a young Muslim refugee from Chechnya, whose grit and determination won him a gold medal in the 2015 Pan Am Games as a member of Canada's boxing team. It was Canada's first gold medal in boxing in forty years. In interviews with Arthur Biyarslanov, Mr. Spray heard stories of his early life, their escape from Russia, the family's life in a refugee camp in Azerbaijan, and finally a new life in Canada ... all before he was nine years old.
The years between leaving Chechnya and moving to Canada were very difficult. His father, a dentist, made little money helping other refugees in Azerbaijan and the family was forced to move too many times. When he died, it became even more difficult for Arthur's mother and her four young children. It led to immigration to Canada, a brand new adventure. Saying goodbye was not easy:
"Arthur knew that he had to leave most of his things behind when this family left for Canada, so he invited all his friends over and gave them his Pokémon cards and all of his toys. His friends were really happy with the unexpected gifts. They shook Arthur's hand, patted him on the back, and wished him luck in Canada. "When you're a famous soccer player," the goalie said, with tears in his eyes, "don't forget your old mates. You get to the World Cup or something, make sure we get tickets." Arthur promised he'd never forget his little gang of friends, and with a lump in his throat, said good-bye to all his chums."
The road from then to now, in 2016, was filled with sports of all kinds including soccer, a badly broken leg and a switch to trying his hand at boxing. His skills improved tremendously when he started working with Danny Santagato, who became coach, family friend, mentor and father figure.
"Arthur continued to fight and win tournaments throughout 2008 and entered grade eight on a real high. He was now an upperclassman in middle school and played in the city finals in basketball, volleyball and soccer. On the track team he made the city finals in the shotput, the 800 m run, and 4 x 100 relay. He helped bring to Winchester Senior School six championship banners - the most in the school's history."
In his final year of high school, Arthur made the difficult decision to give up soccer and make boxing his focus. Early on soccer had provided a place to make new friends, to learn new languages, and to advance his enormous athletic talent. A broken leg proved a mixed blessing when he used boxing to keep up his strength. It was a perfect fit for him. With hard work and dogged determination he became a champion amateur boxer. Right now, he is in Rio to take his place on the Canadian
boxing team. What a feat!
Not one member of my family or friends will believe me when I say that I am going to keep my eye out for boxing matches during the Olympic coverage, but I will be ... and that is the truth!