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'Road to Paris' event raises crucial funds for Surrey Olympic wrestler Amar Dhesi

'I don't even own a car, I use my parents. It's actually laughable,' says the 2-time Olympian

Olympic wrestler Amar Dhesi says he isn't much for self-promotion, so he had to push himself to be at the centre of attention during a fundraiser for him in Surrey.

"It's really hard for me, but my friends and family wanted to put something together before I head over to Paris," said the humble Dhesi. "So they started working on this event a couple months ago."

Close to 500 people filled Aria Banquet & Convention Centre on June 6 to salute the Paris-bound Dhesi, who grew up in Surrey and made his Summer Olympics debut three years ago in Tokyo.

Last March at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in Acapulco, Mexico, Dhesi dominated in his 125kg semifinal, earning a 11-0 victory. At the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, delayed until 2021 due to the COVID pandemic, Dhesi finished 13th in his freestyle weight class, and hopes to medal in Paris.

At the Aria hall, the Thursday-night fundraiser shed light on the plight of Canada's Olympic athletes who receive little funding for training and other costs.

In 2023, Dhesi took a year off wrestling to work with Vancouver Police Department, from which he's currently on leave to prepare for Paris.

"That was something I had to do financially because it made sense because there is no career in wrestling in Canada," Dhesi said. "So I basically lost a year in competing, which was kind of sad, especially coming off my 2022, which was one of the best years competition-wise. I needed to take that step forward (because) I didn't want to be a burden on my parents as a 30-year-old man and being a two-time Olympian. It's not just a financial stress, it's the mental burden that you have. You know, I'm no lesser than anybody, and people say that I'm doing so good in the sport, so great, but like, what do I have to show for it? I don't even own a car, I use my parents. It's actually laughable."

Bal Sahota helped plan the "Road to Paris" fundraiser for his longtime friend. Tickets were sold for $75 each, with tables starting at $2,000. 

"We're pretty much sold-out tonight, with more people than we thought would come," Sahota said. "We wanted to hit $100,000, and we might get there by the end of the night."

Sahota is proud of his former wrestling partner.

"He's a two-time Olympian and that's a big accomplishment," Sahota noted. "We just want to let the community know that he's our guy, he's a role-model, he's a leader, he's done it all, he just needs some help right now.

"This is not just about getting to Paris, it's also about how guys like him are expected to train and get paid peanuts, right," Sahota continued. "With this event we wanted people to know that our government does not do anything for these athletes. He's putting Canada's flag on, so we have to get him some funding. He's been in wrestling for so long, and look how much income he lost out on because he didn't have a job. It's crazy, and that's why we're doing this. Part of it is to get other athletes to come here to train with him, to prepare for the Olympics. It all costs money, and time and effort."

Dhesi is among six Team Canada wrestlers heading to Paris for competition starting Aug. 5, including Hannah Taylor, Ana Godinez Gonzalez, Linda Morais, Justina Di Stasio and Alex Moore.

Last week, Wrestling Canada Lutte sent out a press release urging people to financially help the six athletes individually, or as a team, on the website "From training expenses, travel, pre-tournament events, training camps, support staff costs, much is needed to ensure our team is at their peak when the competition begins," the wrestling body explained.

Dhesi is the only returning member of Canada’s 2024 Olympic Team after competing at the Tokyo Games. He's a second-generation Canadian and his family has strong roots in the sport of wrestling, with both his father and grandfather being wrestlers. Dhesi’s father immigrated to Canada in 1976 and started Khalsa Wrestling Club, helping to build the sport in the Indo-Canadian community.

Now, he's a former Commonwealth Games and Pan-Am Championships gold-medalist looking to win in Paris.

"People hear about the achievements and all the good things but they don't hear about what it takes to get there," Dhesi told the Now-Leader. "Over the past five, six years out of college, I haven't made a dime other than working as a police officer, which is fun and it's all great. I'm happy where I am there and they're very supportive. Fortunately they've given me time off but I haven't received a paycheque in a very long time now."

This spring and into summer, Dhesi will train with a partner at Ohio State, travel to Boston for a tournament and then fly to Paris.

"A lot of those costs have been out of my own pocket, and then some of it Canada Wrestling will pay for," he noted. "I'll subsidize whatever I can from my pocket. My credit card bill last month was pretty big."



Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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