Newfoundland-born Olympian makes supporters proud
© Darren Mills photo/Special to the Advertiser
Family members of Olympic wrestler Leah Callahan show their support for their ‘baby lion’ after her first Olympic appearance from their home in Botwood. From left are Alyson Wellman, Mariem Gill, Kathrine Wellman, and Susan Wellman.
While Mariem Gill sat in her home in Botwood with her family, eyes glued to her computer screen, her granddaughter was doing something most athletes only dream of.
On Thursday morning, St. John’s born wrestler Leah Callahan made her very first Olympic appearance.
The Advertiser spoke with Gill Thursday afternoon, just hours after her granddaughter’s match. When asked how it felt to watch one of her 21 grandchildren participate in something so huge, Gill paused for thought.
“It was very stressful, because you’re always worried about them getting hurt,” she said. “And I just kept hoping she’d be successful.”
And she was.
Callahan didn’t advance to the next round, or win a medal for Canada. She lost against opponent Burmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia with a score of 0-3 in the freestyle 1/8 finals match in the 72-kilogram category, eliminating her from the games.
But to all her family, friends, and supporters in Newfoundland and Labrador and across Canada, Callahan has made an incredible achievement.
“I’m so very proud,” said Gill. “Seeing her achieve so much was just indescribable.”
Gill said she hasn’t had much contact with Callahan since she left for the 2012 London Olympic Games, but she did receive a letter just a few days before her big match.
“Hey family, you have always been such a support for me, not only in the last few years, when I was growing up as well,” said Gill, quoting the letter. “Knowing I’m unconditionally loved by a phenomenal amount of people from coast to coast, we are a very blessed family, and there is absolutely strength in numbers.”
Gill’s voice quivered.
“Know you will be part of my strength as I walk on the mat on Aug. 9.”
The letter, Gill said, came with a box of T-shirts, designed by Callahan’s brother.
“(The T-shirt) says: Canadian Olympic wrestler Leah Callahan, baby lion,” she said. “We call her the baby lion, because she’s the baby of the family.”
When asked if she was looking forward to speaking with her granddaughter now that the match is over, Gill said she has something more she’s excited about.
“I’m looking forward to seeing her. She’ll be in Newfoundland on (Aug.) 20, and she should be in Botwood on the 23rd.”
Though Callahan left Newfoundland when she was three years old, her roots are on the rock; her mother Molly grew up Botwood, and her father in Labrador City.
“She’s so proud of her Newfoundland roots,” said Gill. “Her two grandmothers are here, she has aunts and uncles (here).
“She also must have numerous fans; my phone was going off all last night and today.”
And Callahan isn’t shy about showing her pride – she Tweeted a picture of a Newfoundland and Labrador flag on Aug. 3.
“My Newfoundland flag up in my room at training,” it read. “Thanks everyone for all the support!”
Gill said she’s so happy Callahan is being recognized and celebrated by her supporters for the achievement of being an Olympic athlete.
“I hope and pray (this) doesn’t daunt her spirit,” said Gill. “Leah is such an example for Canadian youth. She should be so proud, and (we are) so proud of her.”