In front of a crowd in Rio, wrestler Danielle Lappage was at the Olympics, but she was crumpled on the mat.
“This has to be a nightmare,” she remembers thinking.
She’d felt a pop in her leg during warmups but brushed off the pain. She wanted to compete.
“I just remember talking to myself in my mind like, ‘You got this. People compete and are successful with injuries. This is just another part of your story,'” Lappage recalled.
“I looked up into the stands, and my parents are both up there, just wide-eyed, scared, concerned for me and so confused.
“That’s the moment that I knew it was real and my heart broke.”
Lappage was forced to forfeit early in her match. Her games were over.
In a bittersweet twist, her close friend and teammate Erica Wiebe won gold in the 75 kg category the same day.
Instead of a medal, Lappage came home with a ruptured hamstring, a pair of crutches and questions surrounding her future in the sport.
“My career had kind of unfolded in a linear way up to that point, so I just thought that it would happen for me.
“When it didn’t happen for me, my whole worldview and belief of how my life would unfold kind of crumbled.”
Unsure of whether she’s be able to compete again, Lappage stayed on the sidelines, coaching and focusing on completing her criminal law degree.
But the inner fire was still burning and Lappage slowly returned to training and eventually, competition.
Five years later, she has had to fight through new injuries and found new highs, making six international podiums in 2019, and finally, qualifying for her second Olympic games.
“(I’m) inspired by her energy and her passion, her commitment,” Wiebe said of her teammate. “It’s what’s kept me at the top of my game.
“She’s gone through so much and she’s just such a warrior. I know that Tokyo will be everything that it means to her.”
Tokyo 2020 will be the first Games where Canada has not qualified a full women’s wrestling team since the event was added in 2004.
Still, Wiebe and Lappage hope to leave their mark, with no regrets.
“Soak up every moment because you can’t guess the future,” Lappage said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how many more of these moments you’re going to get.
“I think that this journey and the Olympic experience is so special and so rare — and I get a second chance.”