July 30, 2021

Wrestler Danielle Lappage overcomes injury for another chance at her Olympic dream

The law school grad with a heartbreaking history of injury at the Olympics benefitted from the delay of Tokyo 2020
Danielle Lappage
Dinos wrestler Danielle Lappage will compete for Team Canada in the 68-kilogram freestyle competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Chris Reith, Wrestling Canada

Update: Danielle Lappage was eliminated after a quarter-finals loss to Khanum Velieva of the Russian Olympic Committee.

Rescheduling the Olympics disrupted the lives of countless athletes.

But for Danielle Lappage, the shift from 2020 to 2021 came as a blessing.

Because had the Tokyo Summer Games taken place as originally scheduled? The UCalgary student — and member of the Dinos' wrestling club — would have been forced to sit out because of serious knee issues.

"It was so bizarre — I got injured right before I would have competed," Lappage wrote in a recent email exchange. "I am lucky the Olympics were postponed."

A serious injury and long recovery

That extra year provided an invaluable buffer.

It gave Lappage a chance to undergo reconstructive anterior-cruciate ligament surgery. The procedure required her to stay off the mats for seven months but that still left her with time to recuperate and, ultimately, return to action.

Now the Olds, Alta., native is part of the Olympic women's 68-kilogram freestyle wrestling bracket in Tokyo.

"It was quite a serious injury, and so I had to be very careful and diligent with my rehab," wrote Lappage. "It has been a long process, but I am finally completely healthy and am able to wrestle without thought to my knee.

"I have completely changed as a wrestler ... each injury forces you to adapt. I think I am as ready as I have been and as ready as I could be."

Danielle Lappage

Chris Reith, Wrestling Canada

Determination after heartbreak in Rio de Janeiro

Thrilled for the 30-year-old are local wrestling enthusiasts, especially those familiar with her hardluck history.

At the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Lappage ruptured her hamstring, while warming up for her opening match. Meaning she didn't get to compete — at all. Heartbreaking.

"I've never seen anything like that — what a horrifying thing to have happen to a superb athlete," said Mitch Ostberg, coach of the Dinos. "But I would say that Danielle is determined. There is no doubt that you can use that word to describe her. That's what drives her training, that's what drives her recovery from those injuries."

For Lappage, that trademark perseverance extends beyond the mats.

Despite being in the midst of regrouping for the Tokyo Olympics, she'd continued her studies this past year. And, in June, Lappage graduated from UCalgary's law school. She plans to start articling in the fall.

Ostberg, for one, applauds her attention to detail wherever she goes, including the classroom.

"Absolutely," he said. "Athletes can't just focus on training. They can, but it's best that they have other challenges to sink their teeth into, other goals in their life ongoing ... so that sport is a part of their life, not their whole life.

"With law school, she's managed to bear the burden of both, which I think is healthy. Succeeding in one area does lead to confidence in the other."

Now, Lappage, the 2010 World Junior Champion, is finally going to get her turn on the Olympic stage. Make no mistake — she's appreciative.

Danielle Lappage

Chris Reith, Wrestling Canada

Recovery from the Rio mishap, after all, had been not only physical.

"Honestly, it was such a hard experience and when I reflect on how I felt in the first few days, weeks, and months after that — the heavy and negative emotions, the depression — I still am completely heartbroken for that person," Lappage wrote. "On top of that, I have also been through so much more since then. And so, when I think of how dark I felt after those Olympics and after this last injury, and think about what I have overcome, where I am now and what I have achieved, I am so dang proud of myself."