This profile is one of a periodic series on powerful and inspirational women.
By Jasminee Sahoye
Her father told her that a woman can be anything in Canada, referring to careers, but when Olympian Ohenewa Akuffo told her dad she had an interest in wrestling, he was surprised.
She knew she had a gift for sports – she loved playing basketball and soccer – but her love for wrestling really took hold in her first year of high school.
At 17, she represented Canada in the World Championships after making it to the Senior National Wrestling Team.
“But the biggest thing about it was so weird because my parents are from Ghana, West Africa; there’s no wrestling. I remembered when I told my dad, ‘Daddy, Daddy I made it to the wrestling team’ and he said, “What?”
“My dad always used to tell me women can do anything. He said when you come to this country, you can do construction, you can … I’m, like, Daddy, Daddy you told me women can do anything. He was, like, this child of mine is going to kill me because he knew he had to live up to everything he said as that was his word.
“We always negotiated. Like my school grades, I had to have an 80 average because that was my potential and my ability or else I was not on the sports team,” says Akuffo.
She told a group of women at a Professional Women’s Forum in Brampton that wrestling was not seen as “something cool” for women as it has always been a male sport. She adds that she knew she had a gift for the sport having reached the top of wrestling in Ontario at only 17.
“I was in denial about it (wrestling) because I just did not want to be associated with it; it’s like I’m going to be written up in the papers, I’ll go to tournaments and I’ll come back and I just didn’t want to be connected with the whole entire brand of wrestling.”
Throughout her wrestling career spanning 18 years, Akuffo traveled around the world, competing in numerous events. They ranged from the World Championships in Tokyo to representing Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic and to Delhi, India, scoring a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games 2010.
That same year, she won a silver medal at the World Championship in Moscow.
She says, while pursuing her wrestling career, she managed to complete a Bachelor of Administration Studies with honors in marketing and a certificate of management and sports administration at York University.
“Everyone has a gift. Sharpen your gift, invest in your gift, get people around you to support your gift because when you bring it to the highest level, it would take you to places that you would never think of,” says Akuffo, who was born in North York but lived in Ghana during her early years after her parents returned there.
Her advice: “Never give up on yourself, never give up on other people but most of all never give up on the thing inside of you that just always challenges you because, believe me, if someone told me years ago that you’ll be a wrestler, an Olympian, first I would, like, I love dressing up and then you have muscles and, like, how do you balance that out?
“But you never give up because you don’t know how the journey would go but in the journey, so many great things will come out of it.”