Olivia Flack has never been outside the United States.
This summer, she will travel about as far away from the country as possible when she makes the trip to South Africa with 19 other wrestlers from Oregon.
Flack plans to take part in the Oregon Wrestling Association Cultural Exchange program, departing July 23 and returning Aug. 15. The trip will include 20 high school wrestlers from Oregon, 12 boys and eight girls.
“It’s definitely exciting because it’s not very often you get an opportunity like this, especially to set an example for those younger girls who are looking up to you,” Flack says. “I know there are girls at our mat club who look up to the high school wrestling team, and it’s very cool to set that example for them, that girls can do this, too, and it’s not just a guys’ sport anymore.”
Flack — who finished third in the Oregon girls state championships in the 100-pound weight class this past season — is following in the footsteps of several family members before her who participated in the Oregon wrestling cultural exchange.
Her grandfather, Keith Flack, was part of the first ever Oregon Wrestling Association Cultural Exchange in 1962 when he traveled to Japan. Olivia’s father, Aaron Flack, the La Pine athletic director and wrestling coach, traveled to Japan with the program in 1991. Olivia’s uncle and Aaron’s brother, Trent Flack, traveled to Egypt with the Oregon team in 1986.
“It’s really cool, since my grandpa was on the first ever guys team from Oregon (on the exchange), and now I’m on the first ever girls team,” says Olivia, who started wrestling in third grade. “It’s really cool to be a part of that. They’ve had one or two girls go with the guys in the past, but this is the first time we’ve had this full of a lineup.”
Aaron Flack looks back on his trip to Japan with fond memories. He recalls learning the Japanese way of life and being treated “like a king.”
“Just learning their culture and how they all eat together, it was just really an eye-opener, learning how they go through their day,” Aaron Flack says. “I remember getting pictures with students, giving a lot of autographs. It was really a neat experience.
“I think it’ll be an eye-opener for her (Olivia) and I think she’ll have a great, great time there. She’s never been out of the country. So for her to go overseas and experience something like that will be pretty awesome for her.”
Other Central Oregon wrestlers who plan to make the trip to South Africa are Charli Stewart, the 120-pound girls state champion from Bend High, and La Pine’s Carmelo Farfaglia, who finished third in the 106-pound class at the Class 3A boys state championships this past season.
Wrestlers qualified for the cultural exchange by winning trials in their respective weight classes or being selected for an open spot.
Mike Simons, the wrestling coach at Thurston High School in Springfield, has been the director of the Oregon Wrestling Association Cultural Exchange program for nearly a decade. He brings a team from a different country to Oregon each year, and sends at least one team from Oregon overseas each year. A team from Russia came to Oregon on the exchange last fall.
“We try to balance it about 50 percent sightseeing and 50 percent wrestling,” Simons says of the South Africa trip. “We’ll go to game parks. We’ll stay with some host families, and we’ve stayed in lodges at the game parks.”
Simons says the Oregon wrestlers are scheduled to compete in a major national tournament in Pretoria, South Africa, then travel around to different clubs all over the country to compete. They plan to visit Capetown, Johannesburg, and then travel all the way north to the border to Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Simons himself went on the exchange to Egypt in 1986 with Olivia Flack’s uncle, Trent Flack.
“She’s a heck of a wrestler and comes from a wrestling family,” Simons says. “I’ve known the Flacks for a long time.”
Olivia says she is excited to try new foods and new activities, see different wildlife, and just explore a different culture.
“Just getting out there and being a part of that culture will really help me in the future, to see that other side of the world,” she says.
She also has some wrestling goals for the trip. She hopes to train with Stewart as much as possible, but she is also busy with the La Pine track and field team, competing in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000 meters for the Hawks this spring.
“I want to win the majority of my matches when I get there, or at least put up a really good fight,” Olivia says. “So I really need to practice that for this summer, that way I’m prepared to put up a good fight against the South Africans.”