The UFV Cascades wrestling team’s Brad Hildenbrandt edged his way to the top of the men’s 120 kg category at the national wrestling championships hosted by the University of Winnipeg last month, bringing home the first U Sports gold medal for wrestling in UFV’s history. The second year athlete from Surrey, B.C. sat down with The Cascade to discuss his recent victory and how he got to the point of being a national champion.

Now that it’s sunk in, how do you feel about winning the first U Sports gold medal for the Cascades?

I’m proud of myself, I wrestled well. It really shows the improvement that has happened in the last couple years. There were guys I used to lose badly to, but now it’s the opposite. I think for me, it’s not so much about being a U Sports national champion, it’s about confirming that I’m improving.

What do you think this gold medal win will do for you in the future?

Obviously, being All-Canadian looks great on a resume. It opens up a whole lot, it shows people you’re not just an athlete but a student-athlete. You’re a national champion while going to school. It shows you’re balanced [in being] athletic and intelligent.

What do you do differently to put yourself ahead of the competition?

I’m working harder than everyone else. For me, I always had the physical part, it was trying to get the technique down. These last two years have been a lot of focusing on technique and strategy.

How does it help having two head coaches rather than one?

I’ve been working with Raj [Virdi] since I was in grade 11, he’s my club coach as well. Then he introduced me to Arjan [Bhullar]; having someone who’s an Olympian in your own weight class can teach you exactly what you need to do. He’s been there, done it. Raj as well, he’s been a Commonwealth Games champion. They’ve both been at the highest level. That’s something a lot of teams don’t have.

What made you go into wrestling; what does your passion stem from?

I wanted to be better than everyone else. I’m not like that in regular life but in wrestling I did want to be better than everyone else, I wanted to be a champion.

When did you get into wrestling?

In grade eight, through my high school team. They made an announcement saying they were having a meeting for anyone who wants to join the wrestling team and I wanted to.

What made you want to try out?

I had always done different martial arts. I used to do karate and at the time I was doing taekwondo as well. [Wrestling] seemed like a different [martial art] that would be useful and I wanted to try it.

How do you think doing karate and taekwondo helped you in terms of wrestling?

It gave me balance, flexibility, and it taught me discipline.

Do you see wrestling as a future for yourself?

Hopefully. I’m trying to make the 2020 Olympic team.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.