In the world of Canadian amateur sports, the DesChatelets are virtual wrestling royalty.
And while it is Jacques, the second eldest of six boys, who more or less started it all, it is Richard (Sr) who undoubtedly sits atop the throne of the legendary Sturgeon Falls family.
Now 67 year old and just over ten years removed from a 28 year career as the founder and head coach of the wrestling program at Brock University, the 1976 Olympian recalled a childhood setting whereby impromptu wrestling was always the order of the day.
“Our kitchen was pretty big,” said Richard, reminiscing on the family setting along the Sturgeon River that housed no less than 11 children. “We would get our parents to go in the living room, we would close the door and wrestle for hours. Then we would bring the neighbour families and wrestle against the Greniers (21 children) and the Delormes (11 children).”
“They were tough.”
Tough like Jacques.
“He was the one who really got us involved in wrestling,” noted Richard. “In fact, it sort of wasn’t a choice about the rest of us getting involved. He would grab us and kick the crap out of us. He was so explosive, but he never knew how talented he was.”
Apparently, assessing future wrestling talent was no easy task, at that time. It’s not as though the welcome mat was rolled out for Richard DesChatelets when he first stepped foot in Ecole Secondaire Franco-Cite. “When I got to the high-school in grade nine, the coach was not interested in me,” he said with a laugh.
“He thought I was too awkward. He didn’t even let me wrestle off in order to tryout.”
Twelve full months and one coaching change later, the wheels were set in motion. That very first coach was not completely wrong - he simply did not recognize a talent that did not fit the mold.
“I was awkward, but I was unique, in a sense, because I used my legs a lot,” said the man who was ultimately dubbed the “leg man” in amateur wrestling circles. “I used my legs like some wrestlers use their arms. It was not traditional. I did not fit within the norm of wrestling. But when Roger Beauchemin (new coach) took over, he kind of let me do what I wanted to do.”
“I developed a different technique from most people,” added DesChatelets. “When I started to get good, people did not want to wrestle me because I was doing things that were weird.”
Weird - perhaps. Successful - most definitely.
An OFSAA champion in both grade 12 and 13, DesChatelets would be crowned Canadian junior champion and finish third at the World Juniors prior to even attending university. While the recruiting landscape was somewhat different at that time, his accomplishments were enough to draw the attention of the Iowa Hawkeyes, a premier NCAA program - though the francophone teen from northern Ontario would ultimately settle upon the Guelph Gryphons as his choice.
“I wanted to go there (Iowa), but I was just a little kid who could hardly speak english,” said DesChatelets. “I was going to lose myself there. Besides, I actually got a bigger scholarship in Canada than in the States. Because I was a national champion, they (Sport Canada) paid for all of my education.”
In his first year at Guelph, DesChatelets would capture bronze at nationals. An epic battle that featured six rounds of overtime combat secured him a place on a Canadian team that would compete in Europe that summer. By 1975, he would be named outstanding wrestler at the event that assembled the best wrestlers, from coast to coast, showcasing himself as a senior though still junior aged.
Beyond his unconventionality via the excessive use of his legs in a bout, DesChatelets was also raising eyebrows, bouncing around in weight classifications, a general no-no at the elite level of the sport. “I placed third at world juniors at 163 pounds and was national champion that same year at 180 pounds,” he declared.
Topping the podium twice at the Commonwealth Games (1978 & 1982), DesChatelets would wrestle at both the 198 lb and 220 lb brackets. “I hated cutting down to a weight class,” he suggested. “Anybody that knows me knows that I’m very dear to my food. Back then, it was four big meals a day.”
“For me to miss a meal to make weight, I hated it.”
After finishing 10th at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, DesChatelets was completely zoned in on his second crack, four years later in Moscow. By then, he had proven that he was more than capable of going toe to toe with those at the top of the mountain, defeating two-time world champion Ilya Mate of Russia along the way.
The USA-led boycott that would keep Canada out of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow was devastating for DesChatelets, causing him to quit wrestling entirely and accept a teaching job at ES Rayside-Balfour in Azilda. And though he would be coaxed back for one final hurrah, culminating with his second Commonwealth gold medal (1982), he simply could not push through to ‘84 (Los Angeles).
“For me, mentally, I was not into it any more,” he said. “It was just too hard.”
Of course, by this point, DesChatelets was also tackling a new challenge, heading up the fledgling wrestling team at Brock. Transitioning from coach to athlete, as so many can attest, is hardly an automatic. “It was not easy, initially,” said the man who would hold the position with the Badgers for 28 years, leading his team to no less than 22 OUA championships and another 13 at the CIS (now U Sports) level.
“I was the type of athlete who could go from A to D to S, whereas with a lot of athletes, you can’t skip a letter. You go from A to B to C.”
But much in the same manner that he tapped into his family roots to launch his career as an athlete, DesChatelets carried those same homegrown values into coaching. He speaks eloquently of his siblings, notably his brother Michel, who along with his wife Diane, not only maintain a highly successful business in Sturgeon Falls (Leisure Farms), but also were front and center in maintaining the wrestling program at Franco Cite for several decades.
Success is so often a result of the lessons learned at home.
“I’ve never really considered myself a top coach, even though I’ve coached at all levels,” said the man who guided the Canadian contingent into the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. “I’ve always felt that I was more of a delegator. I would assign people to coach certain athletes because I felt that they were more qualified than I was.”
“I know that I got that from my father,” continued DesChatelets. “He was a great delegator and I inherited this.”
A generation later, the inheritance that he and his brothers will leave behind is a wrestling legacy that very few other families can match.