Martial artist from Opaskwayak Cree Nation proud to represent First Nations women in jiu-jitsu | CBC News
A 24-year-old martial artist originally from a northwestern Manitoba First Nation says while she’s happy to be coming home from an international tournament with three medals, she’s also proud to be one of the few Indigenous women competing in the sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“There’s not a lot of Indigenous women in the sport itself,” said Desiree Wescoup, originally from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.
“So just being able to be one of them, and to take it far as competing, especially in … different countries — that’s, like, a huge reward.”
Wescoup, who now lives in Kelowna, B.C., took home three bronze medals at an international Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament in Los Angeles earlier this month.
“You always want to … go for gold, but even just placing on the podium is such a big deal,” said Wescoup.
“It was definitely challenging but it was such a good opportunity, just to go down there and compete with other athletes that are some of the best out there.”
She travelled to the 2023 Los Angeles Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open, which ran March 11 and 12 in L.A., as part of a team of seven.
She fought in five matches, securing three bronze medals as a result.
Amreek Aujla-Fieldt, Wescoup’s coach, said he was very proud of what she and her teammates accomplished at the tournament.
“To have my students competing against some of the top level [talent] in the world, it’s the most rewarding,” he said.
Wescoup’s greatest strength is “her tenacity,” her coach said.
“She fights hard. She doesn’t give up. She’s feisty. She’ll go after it and she just doesn’t quit.”
A mental and physical challenge
Though she now lives in Kelowna, Wescoup says she always has Opaskwayak Cree Nation — where she grew up and lived until she was 18 — in her heart.
But it wasn’t until after her move to B.C. that she took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It initially simply offered a way to get out and do something active, but she eventually fell in love with the sport — a self-defence martial art based on grappling and submission holds.
“I never knew that it would become this big, and like, this huge part of my life,” she said.
Now, she enjoys putting in the work to get even better.
“It’s such a challenging sport because … a lot of people say it’s 50 per cent mental and 50 per cent physical,” she said.
“Just being able to have the courage and the mentality to step on the mat and compete — it’s a very, very hard thing to do.”
Wescoup hopes to go to more tournaments and events in the future. Her goals include competing at this year’s world championship in Long Beach, Calif., in June, and heading to Jiu-Jitsu Con — billed as “the world’s biggest jiu-jitsu event” — in Las Vegas.
But she said she’ll soon have to slow down on competitions, as she is moving to Vancouver in July to attend school for fashion business.
“So before that, I did want to do as many tournaments as I can,” she said.
For aspiring female martial artists looking to get into jiu-jitsu, Wescoup has a little advice.
“I would just say be comfortable and … know that everybody, even though it is a male-dominated sport, everyone in this sport is so welcoming,” she said.
“It is starting to become a lot bigger, though, for females, which is amazing.”