Jessica Hong: Wrestling Her Way Back to Home

Jessica Hong is an 18-year-old competitive female wrestler who has dominated tournaments on domestic and international levels. She will be joining Carleton University’s wrestling team looking to commence in the fall. 

Born and raised in Ottawa, Jessica studied at Sir Robert Borden High School before going to Lakehead Universiy to study mechanical engineering on a full athletic scholarship to train with their varsity wrestling team. 

Hong was first introduced to the sport during her grade nine physical education class. She joined the high school wrestling team led by coach Dave Barbier.  Being one of the only 90-pound girls there, Hong became accustomed to pairing up with smaller boys and heavier people to practice new moves and techniques. Instead of becoming discouraged because of her gender and size, Hong sought positive female role models and aimed to become one herself. Her determination did not go unnoticed: Hong received the women’s MVP award for wrestling, all four years of high school, and went on to represent Sir Robert Borden High School with unprecedented success at Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) events.

One of Hong’s biggest supporters was Chris Schrauwen, who leads the National Capital Wrestling Club.

“I would feel discouraged getting beat up by guys, but he always made sure I was back up on my feet ready to get better,” Hong said. “He constantly reminded me that there’s always a technical answer to beat anybody, not just guys, and we’d find the answer and get better.”

Highlights in her wrestling career include being a four-time provincial champion, silver OFSAA medalist and two-time OFSAA champion. She placed in the top three at the Canadian Nationals multiple times, including winning the Canadian Junior National Championships while still being a cadet (the lower age division to being a junior) and representing Team Ontario and Team Canada in the United States and Japan. 

Hong shared about the stress and pressure to perform.

“The main struggle I have is mental strength,” she said. “I always find myself with negative recurring thoughts: ‘Can I perform like I do in practice? Can I keep up my grades? Will people understand?’ The answer is no, not all the time. I learned from failing and getting back up again, which isn’t easy.” 

Hong expressed the need for, “a good support network of genuine people that understand and care” in a busy student-athlete’s life being key to balancing school, training, and a social life. “It’s really hard to find people that truly understand, but there are people like that out there,” she said. 

Hong is returning to her hometown and studying at Carleton after a tough first year in university that took a toll on her mental health. Like many freshmen, Hong found it extremely difficult to adjust to a new environment and heavier workload, especially in a program as demanding as mechanical engineering. In addition to all of that, she had to maintain superior physical health for her training and competitions with the wrestling team.

“I learned that I’m more mentally strong in my hometown than anywhere else,” she said. “Mental health, including mental strength in wrestling, is really important to me, and something I needed to resolve before anything else." 

Carleton’s wrestling team is currently overseen by her former teammates and coaches who have supported her since the onset of her athletic career. Hong hopes that coming back to, “the grounds of where [she] strengthened [her mental health] at the start,” will help her bounce back out of her slump. 

She also said Ottawa has more opportunities than Thunder Bay, to reach her career goal of becoming an engineering project manager.

“While Carleton’s wrestling team is currently waiting on approval for competitive status, I envision a really strong team that’ll surprise a lot of people,” Hong said with confidence. “This team is going to make history. When you have a vision and a strong hardworking group of individuals, you can do just about anything.” 

Schrauwen, Hong's former coach, also leads Carleton's team. 

Hong said Schrauwen, “truly believes in the Carleton team and the team believes in him.”

Schrauwen has trained several athletes who have won provincial, OFSAA, nationals, and even a Pan-American championship.

Hong is in good company for athletes like her, who she said also contribute to the matches and titles she wins.

“We work hard, but we work hard together. Wrestling is an individual sport, but the champions are the ones who work hard and push each other up,” Hong said. “Nobody starts off as a champion, you grow and become one from your hard work and mindset. The Carleton team has all of it, and I’m excited to grow with them.”