On the mat at the Mississauga Sports Centre, Braxton Stone-Papadopoulos of Pickering, Ont. is 30 seconds away from winning gold at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games in 63-kilogram freestyle wrestling.
The 20-year-old leads her opponent, Katerina Vidiaux of Cuba, by a score of 4-3 and the pro-Canadian crowd is screaming as they watch their hometown favourite perform.
The clock is ticking. Vidiaux is desperate to score and Stone-Papadopoulos knows this. After quickly side-stepping a duck-under attempt from Vidiaux, Stone-Papadopoulos blocks another grab and turns to the offensive. She spins Vidiaux around and pushes her towards the edge of the ring, then pounces onto her opponent’s back and pins her to the floor, scoring another point and taking a 5-3 lead.
With 15 seconds to go, Vidiaux can still tie the match and she is aggressively trying to do so. She’s the defending Pan Am champion in the 72-kilogram division and has fought in the Olympics. Those accomplishments are just dreams to the young Stone-Papadopoulos, who is competing in her first Pan Am Games.
But the Canadian is determined to win. As Vidiaux slides down to her knees in an attempt for one final leg grab, Stone-Papadopoulos widens her stance, grabs her opponent’s neck and circles around her before pouncing on her back. Another two points.
The whistle blows and her face is in her hands. She pumps both fists in the air 10 times, a smile beaming from her face. The two wrestlers are brought to the centre of the mat and the referee lifts Stone-Papadopoulos’s hand, declaring her the winner. She hugs Vidiaux, shakes the Cuban coach’s hand, then grabs a Canadian flag from her own coach, Saeed Azerbayjani. With the beaming smile still plastered across her face, Stone-Papadopoulos runs a circle around the mat, flag waving wildly behind her — now able to call herself a Pan Am champion.
“It’s so amazing! I’m so excited!” she tells the CBC after the match. And after learning about her journey leading up to this moment, it’s clear why she says excited and not surprised.
You can read the rest of this feature, and see the final coded version I worked on, at theeyeopener.com.