With the Pan Am Games just months away in her home country, freestyle wrestler, Ohenewa Akuffo, hoped her aging body would withstand the rigorous training and preparation for one more international competition.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t and she has announced her retirement after 16 years representing Canada.
Two years ago, the 36-year-old took a break from international competition to address digestive health concerns attributed to years of weight and diet restrictions.
“I know most of my fans and people in the sports community assumed I had stopped competing, but that wasn’t the case,” she said. “I took a break to take care of my body. My heart still held hope of returning to top-class competition in time for the Pan Am Games and next year’s Rio Olympics, but after grappling with what my body was able to give and the knowledge that my vast experiences as a world-class athlete can benefit others, I decided to move on.
“For me, this is a time of transition and not retirement because I don’t view this as an end to my professional career. Instead, I see it as a transfer of my high-performance skills to playing fields beyond sport. During my career, I have learned some great life lessons that have made me the person I am today. The sport has also provided me with some of my best memories and my toughest challenges.”
Akuffo said her highlight was representing Canada in what is considered a non-conventional sport that combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events. Women’s wrestling became an Olympic sport just 11 years ago.
“Pushing myself to do something that’s uncommon and succeed at it is something that I am very proud of,” she said.
Born in North York to Ghanaian parents, she captured her first senior national championship at age 17 in 1997 and was selected to represent Canada in the 75kg division at the world championships that year, becoming the youngest national women’s team competitor. She won a gold medal at the first ever World University Games in Izmir, Turkey in 2005 and was inducted into Brampton’s Sports Hall of Fame four years year.
The 10-time senior national team member, who lived in Toronto and Mississauga with her family before moving to Brampton, where she attended St. Augustine Secondary School and trained at the Matman Wrestling Club, is the only wrestler in the 34-year-old Sports Hall of Fame.
The holder of a Commonwealth gold medal, two Pan Am silver medals and silver and bronze medals at the 2010 and 2008 world championships respectively, Akuffo – who lived in Ghana for five years – plans to pursue a judo black belt and be a wrestling ambassador.
“I am returning to judo after 15 years,” she said. “I started doing the sport to help me get better at wrestling. I will still be training because I like to be in shape and I will continue to go out to schools and community centres and inspire young people to find their own paths to greatness. I will also focus on my business (Bodily Prosperity) which I founded on the principles derived from my lifestyle as a world-class athlete.”
The company helps clients enhance their health and body image.
Two years ago, she was among three Canadian sports leaders invited to attend the International Olympic Academy Young Participants session in Olympia, Greece.
Akuffo was a member of RBC Olympic program that hires Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes as community ambassadors to spread messages of excellence and leadership in Canadian communities and an athlete ambassador for KidSport Ontario.