Coach Nick Ugoalah is turning the once-small UBC Wrestling Club into a competitive and welcoming team with his holistic approach to the sport.
As a six-time national wrestling champion, six-time world team member, National Hall of Fame inductee, gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games and two-time medalist at the Pan American Games, Ugoalah is a seasoned wrestler.
Ugoalah currently works as a management consultant and executive coach and conducts seminars. He's also an author — he wrote a book titled Whatever It Takes: Embrace Change, Leverage Challenges and Achieve an Extraordinary Life! He said that he “still has wrestling as a passion, but in a different capacity now, which is to help the younger people.”
Seeking a team to coach, Ugoalah heard about UBC’s Wrestling Club through a friend. On his first visit to meet the team, there were only five members, but Ugoalah said that he saw “everyone’s enthusiasm and the huge potential they had.”
UBC Wrestling Club was established in the early 2000s when wrestling became an AMS club. In recent years prior to 2020, members of the club mostly came together to scramble amongst themselves without professional coaching. Following the COVID-19 pandemic when the club took a hiatus, fourth-year kinesiology student and new club president Ali Mohajer met Ugoalah.
“When I first met Coach Nick when he came out to check out the club, I just thought that this was the man, and the club is really going to happen. We decided to move forward from there to grow the club and make it a strong team,” said Mohajer.
Now that the club had a professional coach, Mohajer was excited to work with Ugoalah to implement a real structure within the club. Another club member, fourth-year anthropology and archeology major Emma Marsales, took the initiative to be the club’s social media coordinator and promote the club to more students.
“I joined the club just to check it out, and I was like, hey, this is awesome. Everyone was so welcoming, and so I just kept going,” said Marsales. “Wrestling is just so fun, and makes you feel powerful and capable. I really feel like it’s important to get other women interested in wrestling too.”
The UBC Wrestling Club has seen rapid growth, with at least 20 students participating in every practice.
“Wrestling changed my life, and I'm using those skills now to try and make a difference in the life of the next generation,” said Ugoalah.
The athletes are particularly drawn to Ugoalah’s coaching. Alongside skills and combat training, Ugoalah tries to develop the athletes’ mental toughness.
“I give them lots of situations, lots of scenarios and training where they're beating their prior best, where they're doing things that they didn't think they were capable of, where they're challenging their fears and building their confidence,” he said.
The club is part of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, which means that they can compete for the national title and in open tournaments in the Canadian system.
The team was out in Calgary on October 23 for the 2022 Dino Invitational.
“We were competing with all the U Sports athletes, which are all the guys that compete at the high tier in the Canadian university system, and these guys took it full on. Some had not even competed at this level before, but they did it so well,” said Ugoalah.
Moving forward, the UBC Wrestling Club would also like to officially be a part of U Sports, which is the national governing body of university sport in Canada.
“There’s nothing like wrestling. Anyone can do it, and you don’t even think about winning anymore. You just think about wanting to get better, go to the tournaments, and pushing yourself as hard as you can. I think it’s so powerful and so positive. The more people we can get in the club, the better,” said second-year neuroscience student and UBC Wrestling Club member Alex Vienneau.
“The classroom of wrestling is about understanding tenacity, goal setting, keeping your mind strong, resilience, and how to get up after you fall,” said Ugoalah. “These things will apply for anywhere and anything you do in life.”