Glory is fleeting, and athletic glory doubly so. Of the close to 20,000 students at Queen’s, only a few know that they’re sharing a campus with one of the most dominant wrestlers in CIS history.
It’s a hard transition from athletic renown and the pinnacle of your sport to relative obscurity, but wrestling coach Jamie Macari has pulled it off.
Macari is a three-time senior Canadian champion, the only wrestler ever to win five straight OUA titles and one of only two wrestlers to win five straight CIS titles. He represented Canada four times internationally at the junior, university and senior levels. In his five years of CIS wrestling for the Brock Badgers from 2003 to 2007, Macari put up a perfect 35-0 record at the 54-and 57-kg levels. Nothing could beat him, except for his own body.
“I have arthritis in some of my joints,” Macari said. “My last couple of years, I had to decrease my training a lot due to injuries. It became a lot more difficult for me to maintain that level.”
Despite his injuries, Macari still dominated his competition in his final years as an athlete, which he credits to his mental preparation and his knowledge of the sport.
“I couldn’t do as much physically, so I had to make up for it mentally,” he said.
Macari said things came to a head in 2007, when injuries forced him to miss two months of the season.
“I should have given up, but I didn’t want to,” he said. “It wasn’t beneficial for my body.”
He battled through the pain to win the CIS championship, earning Most Outstanding Wrestler and Fair Play accolades along the way. He then followed that success up with a victory in the senior Canadian Open, which he describes as miraculous.
“It was made very clear the state of my wrestling and my efforts,” he said. “I was so incapable of winning that tournament.”
Macari won, but at great cost. The pain kept getting worse and he eventually decided his career was over, a tough call for any athlete
“It took me two months to come to the decision,” he said. “It was my faith in God that pulled me through.”
Walking away wasn’t easy, though. If Macari had stayed in wrestling, he would have received substantial government funding as a carded amateur athlete.
“There was $30,000 on the line,” he said. “All I had to do was sign a contract, and it was mine.”
He said he knew some wrestlers who took funding despite severe injuries and then retired, but he didn’t want to be dishonest.
“I was really conflicted, saying ‘What’s more important, all this money or my faith and doing the right thing?’” he said. “I knew I couldn’t do it. … That’s not how I really wanted to go.”
Instead, Macari devoted his energy to coaching. He had previously coached at the high school level, but 2008 brought him to Queen’s. He found out about the opening from former Gaels’ coach Marcus Nieman, an old wrestling acquaintance of his, and leaped at the chance.
“I was like, ‘It’s a no-brainer,’” he said. “I think it’s where I’m meant to be.”
He said he enjoys helping other wrestlers develop their talent.
“It comes natural to me, I guess,” he said. “I just like encouraging others to meet their potential.”
Macari said his time at Queen’s so far has been great.
“The administration is incredibly supportive,” he said. “All the people above me help me as much as possible.”
Queen’s is a long way from wrestling powerhouses like Brock, as the Gaels’ team only trains in-season and is only funded at the club level. Macari said that doesn’t dissuade him or lower his expectations.
“We have to take this for what it is at the time,” he said. “I think it has a ton of potential to grow.”
Macari said the sky’s the limit for the calibre of Queen’s wrestling program.
“I think this could be close to one of the national training centres,” he said. “I believe if anyone knows how to make the most of this opportunity and have the chance to succeed, it’s me.”