Calgary Feb. 19, 2020
A Pontiac-raised athlete was commemorated with one of the highest honours in collegiate sports last month, by being officially enshrined in the history books.
On Jan. 31, Campbell’s Bay wrestling stand-out Genèvieve Haley was inducted in the U Sports Canada West Hall of Fame, following an illustrious five-year career with the University of Calgary Dinos.
Representing the school, Haley compiled a long list of accolades in the flyweight (48 kg) division, including being named the CIS – now U Sports - Rookie of the Year in 2007, winning five straight Canada West (CW) and national titles.
In 2010 and 2011, she was recognized as the Most Outstanding collegiate Wrestler in Western Canada and nationwide.
Learning of the honour via social media a couple of weeks after the announcement was made, Haley admitted that the achievement came as somewhat of a surprise.
“I honestly found out like everyone else,” she said. “I just got tagged in a Facebook post about it.”
On Feb. 8, she was personally honoured during the medal ceremony at this year’s Canada West Wrestling Championship at the University of Calgary. With the Dinos topping the podium, it was a memorable moment to be a part of.
Haley explained that being recognized at an event where she had triumphed on multiple occasions was a great chance to reminisce her greatest memories as a student-athlete while celebrating her accomplishment alongside other members of the Dino’s wrestling club.
“It was fun because I got to watch the finals and kind of relive some of the moments that I compiled towards me receiving that award almost 10 years later,” she said. “It was a cool opportunity to be able to kind of share their success and being acknowledged for what I was able to accomplish during my career.”
Looking back on her unprecedented success representing the University of Calgary – winning all her playoff matches – she couldn’t have done it without the guidance and support of her coach, Mitch Ostberg.
An instrumental presence in her career, Ostberg played a key role in keeping her focused while giving her the confidence to believe that she could dominate against anyone.
“He believed in me like no one else,” she added. “No matter who I was competing with, he kept reminding me that I could be successful from any position and to go out with a fearless attitude and ready to dominate. It makes a big difference as an athlete – to know that your coach doesn’t doubt you at all.”
Ostberg initially learned about Haley when she was a teenager wrestling in Halifax, NS, after some of his players recommended that she would be a great addition to the Dino’s wrestling room.
A well-developed athlete and an ultimate competitor, Ostberg recruited her and was very impressed.
“She had no quit,” he said. “She had no off button. She would just go and go and she was always just a tenacious competitor – always trying to succeed. You want to work with that.”
While winning ultimately identified her, Ostberg believes the most significant aspect of Haley’s repertoire was her relentless determination to do anything it took to win.
“That’s what you dream of as a coach,” he said. “Gen was great at training. She always attended training and was diligent with the work ethic to get ready to win.”
Most importantly, when the pressure was the highest, she seemingly always brought out her best performances.
“I saw her do things on the mat that I didn’t think she could do,” he said. “She found a way to win matches that were just incredible. She had a feel for the game.”
“Gen was a winner,” he added. “She not only competed well, she not only gave her all, she won matches I never thought she would win and did it again and again. She beat people that you wouldn’t expect her to beat. She was good at winning wrestling matches.”
Born in Shawville, Haley was originally raised in Campbell’s Bay until her family moved to Montreal when was five years-old.
After living in Montreal for a few years, her family settled in the east coast in Bathurst, NB. where Haley discovered the sport of wrestling in her mid-teens.
Initially a competitive gymnast, Haley realized, upon moving to Bathurst at age 14, that she craved a new activity to participate in.
As the new kid in town, she gave wrestling – a sport that she knew nothing about - a shot as an effort to make friends when another student invited her to a training session at a local wrestling club.
“From there, I fell in love with the sport,” she said. “But I didn’t know anything about wrestling. I didn’t even know it was a thing. All I knew about wrestling was like the WWE.”
In Bathurst, Haley trained under well-reputed youth coach Michel Côté before moving to Halifax a couple of years later.
With a background in gymnastics, she held a certain competitive edge over some of her peers, considering how much strength and athleticism she had developed from a young age.
“Gymnastics is an amazing foundation,” she said. “So, I learned wrestling rather quickly and kind of escalated from there.”
Without a high school program to play for during her mid-teens, Haley competed out of the Metro Amateur Wrestling Club in Halifax, under nationally-recognized youth coach Cory Robinson.
Haley largely credits Côté and Robinson for setting the building blocks in what was a phenomenal career.
Highly recruited as a high school student, Haley was bombarded with scholarship offers by coaches representing a wide variety of Canadian University programs.
Originally wrestling out of the Maritimes, she explained that, while she had gotten quality coaching, her quality of competition wasn’t as high as it needed to be for her to become an elite wrestler.
“I was pretty limited in training partners,” she said. “While my program was strong, the rest of the province, the numbers were a lot smaller than they were in Western Canada.”
Desiring to go where the quantity of quality wrestlers was the highest, a few schools in Western Canada fit her criteria.
But Ostberg’s sense of humility and honesty when explaining what the program offered, largely sold her on the Dinos.
“At the time, Calgary was one of two rooms that had just a multitude of gold medalists and multiple-time national champions in and around my weight class,” she said. “When I talked with all the coaches, Mitch was the only coach who didn’t really try to sell me on anything and he didn’t try to downplay any other programs.”
In 2006, Haley enrolled in the University of Calgary’s Business program.
Coming from the east coast as a well-reputed wrestler, Haley’s transition to collegiate athletics was a learning process.
Largely inexperienced compared to her contemporaries, she explained that winning her first gold medal in 2007 was one of the most challenging feats of her career.
“That initial year, it was really a matter of making me believe that I was just as capable as anyone else out there,” she said.
Confident that she could beat anyone in the following years, Haley’s mentality shifted towards trying to remain healthy while pushing herself as much as she could to prepare for championship season – which Ostberg played a key role in.
“I was a pretty self-motivated individual,” she said. “But he was always really good at making sure that I wasn’t necessarily pushing myself hard to the point of detriment because a lot of it is just about being healthy at that time of year and five years in a row is a challenge in itself.”
As the winningest female wrestler in Dinos history, Ostberg admitted that he didn’t expect Haley to be so dominant. But as he got to know her, he realized that he had an absolute gem of an athlete in his hands.
“She was successful in her first year and I thought ‘Okay, this is a really good recruit.’” He said. “But as I got to know her, I recognized that just being tenacious and winning was pretty deeply engrained in her … she just had an intensity in competition that she found a way to win all the time.”
Surrounded by numerous high calibre wrestlers in the Dino’s wrestling room, including 2008 Olympic gold medalist Carol Huynh, Haley was regularly reminded that she had a long way to go before becoming the athlete she aspired to be.
“While I was dominating at the university level, there were people dominating at the world level,” she said. “While I was excited and focused on my varsity career, at the same time I was being constantly reminded of the bigger and better goals that you also have to have to eventually develop into a world-class athlete.”
As a student-athlete, her yearly goals were to win CIS and CW championships. But her eyes were ultimately set on one day making the Canadian national team.
In 2011, Haley graduated from university with a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce.
For the next four years, she stayed in Calgary following her retirement with her husband, Ryan Morrison.
Haley met Morrison at the Canadian Sports Centre in Calgary, where he worked as the physiotherapist for the Olympic luge team and also the national women’s wrestling team.
“He was my physio and my strength coach while I was there,” she said.
Coming out of school, Haley worked for accounting firm KPMG in Calgary for the next two years, before becoming a full-time carded athlete subsidized by the Government of Canada’s Athlete Assistance Program.
Along with sponsorship deals, carded athletes receive government funding to aid them in pursuing their Olympic dreams and involve the top-16 Canadian athletes in a respective sport.
Part of the program from 2007 to 2015, Haley feels grateful, noting that it has greatly benefitted her career by paying for her tuition at the University of Calgary.
Plus, with more time needed to recover from each training session as the years of wear and tear start to add up and having to regularly travel to international tournaments, keeping a steady job was becoming nearly impossible.
After university, Haley continued her success on the world stage amassing numerous accolades, including winning the gold medal at the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto.
After retiring in 2016, her family followed up with a four-year stay in Toronto, where Haley trained full-time while Morrison served as the Toronto Maple Leaf’s Director of Rehabilitation.
Last fall, the family moved to Ottawa to be closer to extended family, where Haley is a stay-at-home mom raising their two young children – two-and-a-half-year-old Bobby and eight-month-old Cory.
“My parents and my husband’s parents are from the Ottawa region,” she said. “So, with the two kids we just wanted to be closer to their grandparents and all the extended family that’s basically from anywhere between Ottawa and Campbell’s Bay.”
For Ostberg, seeing another one of his athletes turn a successful collegiate career into a happy life away from the wrestling mat, makes him feel grateful to be a mentor and a coach at the university level.
“That’s what you hope – that sport is a building block to a great life and I think that’s part of what Gen did with wrestling,” he said. “She’s moved on to a life that she wanted. She wanted to be a family person. It’s like the best of all worlds, to see the way it turned out.”
Despite moving from one place to the next throughout her life, the Pontiac always been the place she calls home, noting the overwhelming support she’s received from her people in the Ottawa Valley.
“It’s always been where I return for the holidays,” she said. “It’s always kind of been my hometown because, even though I moved around so much growing up, Campbell’s Bay was kind of the anchor of where I came back to and continue to go back to.”
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