Leading Seaman wins gold at annual grappling championship

Garrison Petawawa Combatives Grappling Championships

LS Thibault poses with Major Steve Burgess, Senior Combatives Instructor/Tournament Director, at the Garrison Petawawa Combatives Grappling Championships which raised $2,500 to date for the Soldier On program. Photo courtesy of LS Thibault

Sonya Chwyl, MARPAC Public Affairs ~

When Leading Seaman Lee Thibault learned that no one from the Pacific Navy had ever competed in the Canadian Armed Forces’ only grappling tournament, he knew he needed to represent the West Coast.

With seventeen years of wrestling experience, LS Thibault is no stranger to combat sports and always tries to maintain a competitive level of fitness. At sea, he runs fitness classes on the flight deck of the ship; on land, he coaches and trains at his local gym, Crusher Combat Sports, and competes in a variety of local amateur tournaments.

He first heard about the Garrison Petawawa Combatives Grappling Championships through a colleague, Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Rose, who also trains at Crusher Combat Sports and was interested in getting a team together to compete.

The tournament takes place every year in Petawawa, Ontario, and is open to members of the CAF actively serving in the Regular or Reserve Force. All money raised by the competition goes to Soldier On, a program that helps serving CAF members and veterans overcome physical or mental health illness or injury through physical activity and sport. This year, the tournament raised nearly $2,500.

Grappling is a form of submission wrestling that involves holds and take-downs, but no striking. That makes it a great sport for CAF members, says LS Thibault, because there’s less danger of injury than with other combat sports.

Most teams competing in the championship come from the army or air force, and because the tournament was mostly unknown in the navy, LS Thibault and PO2 Rose had a hard time forming a team in time for registration. Still, they were determined to participate in the competition.

“We were going to get permission to go and represent ourselves, just the two of us,” says LS Thibault. “Then PO2 Rose got injured, and I was posted ashore to the Naval Personnel and Training Group in Esquimalt.”

Despite the setbacks, LS Thibault says his new unit did everything they could to help him compete.

“I was blown away by how much support everyone gave me,” says LS Thibault. “They managed to push through a memorandum and an official request, and with less than two weeks to go until the tournament my plane tickets were booked and I was registered as captain of a one-man navy team.”

When the day of the competition arrived, it was hard for LS Thibault not to feel a little bit anxious. He had been training since the fall with the help of his brother and his friends at Crusher Combat Sports, and while he was confident in his abilities, he says it was daunting to be competing without the support of a team.

“I was nervous when I got to the tournament and saw all the different army and air force teams warm up in their matching attire, knowing that they had trained intensely together for the last couple of months.”

LS Thibault competed as an Advanced Heavyweight (221 lbs and up), the highest of seven divisions for male competitors.

After defeating his first three opponents, he won the gold medal in his division, qualifying him to compete against other divisional champions for “absolute” gold – the highest award in the tournament. He won his first match in the absolute division, but lost the next to a “very well-executed arm bar,” which forced him to tap out.

Nonetheless, he walked away from the experience as a divisional champion, and he says he’s thrilled to have had the chance to get other RCN members excited about the competition. Next year, he hopes to compete again – but this time as part of a team.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t about being number one, or thinking of it as navy versus army versus air force,” says LS Thibault. “I want to be a team captain next year and share this sport with people on the West Coast. By bringing the gold home to Victoria, I know I’ve made a statement.”

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