Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Zubin Gatta will be representing Team Ontario in the wrestling competition at next month’s Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games.
The 16-year-old Eden High School student qualified for the 52 kg category by winning two tournaments this spring. His victories over Burhan Ahmad of Matmen Wrestling Club and Evan Liu from TriCity Wrestling punched his ticket to the games.
After winning the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) 38 kg gold medal in 2020, also over Ahmad, the member of the Brock Junior Badgers Club at the time set his sights on this summer’s competition.
“My Dad (Kekoo) told me about the Summer Games about two years ago,” Gatta says. “It became my goal to make the team. I didn’t really understand it until this year. Leading up to it, I started gaining confidence. I won provincials before, so winning that gave me confidence going into the trials.”
Kekoo himself is a former high school and university wrestling standout. He’s a longtime coach with Brock’s junior program, and besides coaching Zubin, he’s guided his children Freddy (23), Farrantina (26) and Cyrus (27) on the mat. Only Farrantina’s twin, Syrina, did not pick up the sport.
Brock’s head coach Marty Calder gives much credit for Zubin’s success to the family’s focus on wrestling and hard work.
“He comes from a family of committed people,” Calder says. “His dad’s a ‘no-mess-around’ kind of guy, he works his butt off. His whole family has a great work ethic. There are high expectations for Zubin to give a full effort, and he does. He’s a great young kid and a really good athlete.”
“I don’t think I would be nearly where I am if (my dad) wasn’t my coach,” the youngest Gatta says. “He definitely pushed me and showed me how to achieve whatever I want in both life and wrestling.”
“He’s a really tough coach with the kids that he knows can be good,” Zubin adds. “He’ll invest hours and hours with anybody who is willing to put the hours in to get better.”
Calder says despite the pandemic keeping kids like Zubin off the mat for two years, he’s seen the young wrestler working hard to continue growing in the sport. And he has grown much — Zubin was seven inches shorter and 14 kg lighter when he won that OFSAA gold in 2020.
Zubin has been wrestling for years, first with Brock’s Junior team and now with the university’s varsity wrestlers. He values having coaches such as Calder and Tonya Verbeek, both with Olympic Games experience, in his corner, and gives props to varsity wrestlers Jordan Wylie and Garette Saunders for their guidance.
“It’s such an amazing team, with amazing coaches,” says the youngest Badger. “Since joining the team this year, it’s become more of a family. It’s a completely different atmosphere.”
Between his summer job responsibilities as a construction labourer with his father’s Gatta Homes, as well as a host at the Epicurean Restaurant on Queen Street, Zubin sticks to a strict six-day workout regimen to keep sharp for the August tournament.
That includes lifting weights six days a week, five sessions of skills work with the Brock University coaches, and a live match session one day a week at the new Canada Games Park next to the university.
Like the other wrestlers on the Brock squad, Gatta is thrilled with the new facility.
“We moved in two weeks ago,” Gatta says. “Our old one had only two mats, and it was actually a dance and fencing room. The new space has five UWW (United World Wrestling) mats, the same ones we’ll use at the Summer Games. It’s really spacious, you don’t have to worry about being bumped into.”
The home mat advantage might pay off in other ways, too, as Calder will be helping to run the wrestling competition on Aug. 9 and 10.
“I’m not one of his Team Ontario coaches,” Calder says, “but I’ll be able to give him some feedback between matches. And Heather Sweezey, Zubin’s coach on the Brock team, will be there coaching the women. It will be good for him to adjust to new coaches, good for his independence.”
Thus far in Gatta’s career that OFSAA medal has stood out as his crowning achievement. Heading into Grade 12 at Eden next year he hopes to have a chance to capture another OFSAA gold. Taking the Canada Summer Games title next month would be another major step in his development as a wrestler.
In September, 2023, Zubin hopes to attend Brock University to study business and continue his association with a strong program that dominated on the mats this past year. The Badgers’ women’s team captured its seventh consecutive Ontario University (OUA) championship in April, while the men’s team secured its sixth.
Looking further ahead, Zubin dreams of making the national team in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics scheduled to be held in Los Angeles.
In the meantime, Gatta will continue to hit the weights in his Old Town home, and start a strict diet about two weeks before the Summer Games.
“One week out it’s serious weight-cutting,” he says. “My sister knows how to cut weight. I will waterload the week before, then slowly cut it out the last day or two. She helps me a lot with that.”
Gatta says he hasn’t yet received his Team Ontario uniform, but expects that will happen in the last week of July.
“The whole team is heading to Atlantic City for a tournament,” he says. “I think they want the whole team to be together when we get it.”