Heidi Susanne Coleman (Kulak) isn’t the first sister to put up with good-natured headlocks from her brothers. But she might be the only one who could pin them to a mat.
Coming from a family of winning wrestlers in her hometown of Whitecourt, Alta., Coleman took up the sport in self-defence.
“I was getting beat up by my brothers so I started going out to wrestling so I could defend myself from them,” she told The Gateway newspaper in 2004. “Then I found that I enjoyed it and just stuck with it.”
The Kulak brothers were no slouches — Chris wrestled for Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Anthony and Matthew both become Golden Bears — but Coleman became a star for the Pandas wrestling team. From 2000 to 2005, she regularly bested her opponents on the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) circuit as well as in national and international competitions.
She was a five-time Canada West medallist, including being a three-time conference gold medalist, and she reached the podium four times during CIS competition.
Outside of the collegiate circuit, Coleman was a member of the national junior and senior teams from 2002 and 2005. She also competed at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic trials.
Her time with the Whitecourt wrestling team, under coaches Chris Thomas, Tracey McKinnon and Boyd Waldner, honed her competitive spirit.
Vang Ioannides, her long-time Pandas wrestling coach, remembers other strengths of the four-time MVP: a gentle disposition, strong convictions and an outstanding work ethic.
Her pure enjoyment of the sport was matched by her ability to persevere regardless of other circumstances. During one gold-medal tournament match, she held on to win despite having dislocated her thumb.
After graduating in 2005, Coleman stayed on for three years as an assistant coach for the U of A’s varsity teams while she earned her education degree.
In 2009, Coleman returned to Whitecourt where she taught Grade 8 and, coming full circle, coached the wrestling team alongside Thomas, coach from her own high school days.
As for the friendly wrestling matches with the boys, some of those moved to campus after brother Anthony joined the Bears while she was still as a Panda.
That turn of events couldn’t have made her happier, she told The Gateway.
“For us, it’s great to be able to share this time of our lives together — and also to be able to share that time on the mat.”