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Support and hard work bring athletes closer to Olympic dreams

May 1, 2012

Bringing athletes closer to Olympic dreams
Roommates, teammates and classmates, Ilya Abelev (left) and Steven Takahashi are pursuing their dream to compete for Canada at the Olympic Games with the support of donor-funded scholarships.

Steven Takahashi and Ilya Abelev are as different as they are similar. Ilya, who is 30 pounds heavier than Steven, hails from Russia, immigrated to Canada at age 7 and grew up in Ottawa. Steven, who is 2 inches shorter than Ilya, spent his entire life in London, Ontario.

But the teammates, roommates and second-year Kinesiology students share the common goals of competing in the Olympics, as well as each completing degrees in Kinesiology and Business. Steven, who wrestles in the 55 kg weight class, says wrestling came naturally after being exposed to the sport by his dad. He is the son of Janet (Dick) Takahashi, BA'79, BEd'80, and Western wrestling coach Ray Takahashi, BA'82, MA'88. However, because Steven was heavily involved in gymnastics until he was 14, he didn't become serious about wrestling until high school.

Ilya, who wrestles in the 68 kg weight class, only knew the sport of judo. But when he decided to try wrestling, he was immediately hooked and decided to give up judo to pursue wrestling at a more serious and professional level.

As Western varsity wrestlers, Steven and Ilya train five nights a week and compete much of the year at university and national levels. Finding time to work and fund their schooling is a challenge and, as such, donor support is crucial.

Steven is a recipient of the Jack Cowin Wrestling Scholarship and Ilya received the William and Nesta Gordon Family Wrestling Scholarship. Both awards were created to support full-time undergraduate or graduate students in any year of any degree program at Western who are making significant contributions as members of the Men's or Women's Wrestling team.

"Donations make a huge impact on those who are trying to get to that elite level," Steven says. "I would not be where I am today without donations, and would have a very difficult time achieving my personal goal to compete for Canada at the Olympic Games."

Ilya agrees.

"The Western scholarship has given me the opportunity to pursue my athletic career while still being able to stay on top of my studies," he says. "The financial relief has been very beneficial for me, otherwise I would have to balance academics, athletics, as well as a job in order to travel, compete and study. And I'm no longer stressing over the burden that is involved in attending a university away from home."

The pair hope to compete in the Junior World Championships in September 2012 having won the provincial senior titles (+20 yrs) in 2011. Their long-range goals are to represent Canada at the Senior World championships, and make the Olympic team in 2016.

"Ilya and Steven both have promising futures," Coach Takahashi says. "If they keep their passion to train to excel in the sport they can achieve their goals. They are in a good environment at Western. The bonus for them is they can achieve their goals, while obtaining a 'best student experience' and education at Western."

This article appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of Impact Western
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