The summer is not going to turn out as Khaya MacKillop planned.
The 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Riverside secondary school in Port Coquitlam was hoping to travel to Guatamala City and then Zagreb, Croatia. But the day after she won gold in the 69kg category at the U19 Canadian national wrestling championships, she blew out her shoulder competing for a spot on the team that recently travelled to the Cadet Pan American championships in the former and then July’s Cadet World Championships in the latter.
It’s the second time in months MacKillop dislocated her shoulder. But this time she won’t be able to just pop it back into place and rest it while she continues training. Surgery, and a lengthy rehab, is likely in the cards and MacKillop will be heading home to her family in Victoria for the summer to prepare for another climb back to the top of her sport.
“I’m hoping to be healthy again in time for junior nationals,” MacKillop said. “I know I’ll be able to come back.”
It’s not like she hasn’t overcome adversity and disappointment before.
Last summer MacKillop fractured her knee in training and missed competing at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg, Man., as well as a chance to attend a special wrestling camp in Idaho. And it took her almost a year before she won her first wrestling match after she migrated to the mat from the kickboxing ring when she was in Grade 7.
MacKillop had made the switch because she wouldn’t be allowed to compete in a kickboxing bout against an opponent until she was 16. That competitive zeal got her through her initial struggles with her new sport.
“I was super determined I was going to win,” MacKillop said of her early losing streak.
And when she finally did, at a small tournament on Vancouver Island, MacKillop knew she’d made the right choice for her sport.
“This is amazing,” she said.
The wins started coming easier. MacKillop’s coach and family determined to realize her full potential, she’d need better coaching and competition. So they made arrangements with old family friends who live in Port Coquitlam and last year she moved away from home on her own to train at the Coast Wrestling Academy in Burnaby while attending Riverside secondary.
MacKillop said she had to grow up in a hurry. Suddenly, at 15 years-old, she was totally responsible for getting herself to and from school, and then navigating the two-hour transit trip to Coast for training.
“It was all me,” she said.
It was also lonely. MacKillop barely knew her host family because she’d last met them when she was four, and her busy schedule made it hard to make friends. She was homesick.
But rather than wallowing, MacKillop channeled her challenges to the mat. She made the provincial team for the Canada Summer Games, and she was named as an alternate for the national team that was making a trip to Japan.
So when her knee cracked, MacKillop was determined to get back to the mat.
“I’d worked so hard,” she said.
After a summer with her family in Victoria, working the weights and training as best she could, MacKillop limited her competitive schedule so she could be in prime condition for nationals. When she first hurt her shoulder in January, she continued to practise using only her good shoulder.
By the time she got to Edmonton for the U17/U19 nationals, she said her shoulder was at about 80%.
Still, she won all three of her matches.
It was in MacKillop’s second bout of the trials when her shoulder failed her again. Her opponent fell on her and she could hear it pop, she said. The pain was searing.
“It was heartbreaking,” MacKillop said. “I was upset.”
The referee checked on her. MacKillop said she’d finish the match. She knew her travel plans were curtailed but she wasn’t going to let an injury count her out.