November 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Familia, FokaiFemme

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“Catching” the Olympic Dream
08 November 2011

A female wrestler from a small island in the Pacific Ocean is hoping a form of wrestling practiced by the coal miners of Lancashire will help unlock her Olympic dream.

Maria Dunn, 25, arrived in Wigan in September from the island of Guam intent on “honing her skills and getting in shape for her qualifiers in early 2012”.

What she hadn’t expected was to be trained in Freestyle Wrestling by a coach with direct roots to the forerunner of her Olympic discipline – Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling.

Maria said: “I wasn’t looking for it, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I came here looking to train and qualify and get into the best shape of my life. It’s just by pure chance that I have found the best wrestling coach who has a whole different world of information.

“There are moves I have never ever seen before – I’m learning all the time.”

Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust (WLCT) invited Maria to stay in Wigan for her pre-Olympic training, opening up the borough’s public gyms for her use and teaming her up with world renowned coach Roy Wood from Aspull Olympic Wrestling Club, the club  also known around the world as The Snake Pit.

Mike Lyons, Head of Service for Sport and Leisure for WLCT, said: “We’re delighted to have Maria here. Roy is a world class coach and we’ll do everything we can to help her fulfil her potential.”

Roy, now 68, trained under legendary wrestler Billy Riley who mastered the art of “Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling” or “submission wrestling”. Lancashire Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling first came to prominence as an amateur sport practiced by coal miners, gaining popularity in the late 19th century.

Freestyle Wrestling which Maria hopes to win a medal at in London 2012 is a descendent of “Catch-as-Catch-Can” and, although the rules may be different, Maria is hoping an insight from those early days could be a major factor in her Olympic ambitions.

Maria said: “I feel really positive, mainly because of this opportunity here in Wigan.

“Roy is coaching me Freestyle Wrestling but because his understanding of the sport is much deeper I am learning all the time. There are little bits here and there that I have never seen before, that nobody would ever expect, and usually a move that is something out of the ordinary allows you to win.

“There are things I can draw from by learning this Lancastrian style made famous by Billy Riley that I think can give me the edge.”

Roy added: “We are delighted to have Maria training with us. She is a pleasure to coach and is refreshing in her open-minded attitude towards Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling thus improving her freestyle performance.

“I have always known the value of Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling, as both a sport in its own right and one that compliments other disciplines. This is reflected in the global interest that we have seen developing recently with the rising popularity of Mixed Martial Arts.

“I look forward to watching Maria’s progress and feel that she will ultimately have the upper advantage on two levels. Firstly, the extreme level of fitness required by Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling to which Maria works on daily. Secondly, the appliance of the Catch-as-Catch-Can rule-compliant techniques that compliments her developing freestyle skills.

“Whether coaching freestyle or catch-as-catch-can, my passion has always been about passing on my knowledge to others which follows on from my own learning from Billy Riley. Ultimately, ensuring that such historical disciplined sports are not lost in the text books of history.”

Factfile about Maria

  • Guam is part of the Mariana Islands that extend 1,565 miles from Guam to near Japan
  • Guam is 7,000 miles from Wigan
  • Maria started wrestling when she was 11-years-old in PE class. She watched for two weeks because she was too young to join in, pretending to her mum that she was actually at football class. The coach gave in after two weeks started training and had first competition.
  • As the only female wrestler at high school she had to wrestle with the “guys” to practice.
  • She went on to study at Missouri Valley College, America and admits that “wrestling boys in Guam certainly helped to put me on the same level”.
  • Following college she went on to become an Art Major after studying at the University of Guam.
  • Maria competed in the 2008 Olympics. She was the first female wrestling Olympian her country has produced.
  • Anyone wishing to find out more about Roy Wood, catch wrestling or The Snake Pit should visit


One Comment on "FokaiFamilia&FokaiFemme:MariaDunn"

  1. Neil - Fokaiuk on Tue, 15th Nov 2011 5:45 pm 

    Great story….Let me know when your in Wales next with Roy, Maria, I’ll speak to Jamie and find out when the next seminar is planned and come along.

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