Female Israeli wrestler trains in Montreal

Israeli wrestler Ilana Kratysh practises her moves.

MONTREAL — Ilana Kratysh adores her native Israel and attends Lviv University in Ukraine as a physical education student.

But it’s Canada that Kratysh, a burgeoning talent in the freestyle wrestling world, calls home these days.

The 22-year-old Haifa resident is living in Snowdon/Côte des Neiges and is an almost daily presence at the YM-YWHA Ben Weider JCC’s George Reinitz Wrestling Centre.

There she’s honing her skills under the watchful eye of Victor Zilberman, the country’s best-known Olympic wrestling coach, as well as competing across the country and earning increasingly high marks as a potential Olympian.

At the Y and other venues, she’s also working with veteran Canadian Olympic wrestling coach Rob Moore, as well as Olympic vets David Zilberman (Victor’s son) and Martine Degrunier.

 “I will be here until February, but I want to come back. I don’t know what I would do without Victor,” Kratysh said in a recent telephone interview.

“I never used the system he uses to train, and it’s unbelievable. I feel much stronger, more fit, everything.”

It’s been a tumultuous last several months for Kratysh.

Make that a tumultuous life.

She was born in Israel literally minutes after her very pregnant mother and her father landed in Israel in 1990 (she also has an older brother, 24).

She showed a real knack at judo as a five-year-old child and competed for 15 years, but a hand injury while serving in the Israel Defence Forces at age 19 ended any future she had in that sport.

So Kratysh switched to wrestling, and in March 2011, she represented Israel at the 2009 European World Championships. She competes in the 63-kg class and is 1.69 metres tall (about 5-1/2 feet).

“Except for me, Israel has no women wrestlers,” Kratysh said, “and [the Israeli wrestling federation] needed one, so it was me.”

What seemed to help Kratysh right off the bat was her tactic of including judo moves in her wrestling matches. It made her a winner. She won her first matches at both the 2010 and 2011 European wrestling championships.

The connection to Zilberman goes back to September 2011 in Alberta, where Kratysh went to compete in the Women’s World Wrestling Championships.

Kratysh was looking for a coach in Canada and was put in contact with Zilberman through an acquaintance in New York, Aviram Shmuely, a New York dentist who is also a well-known wrestling coach and knew Zilberman.

Zilberman went to Edmonton to see Katrysh in action and took her on right away.

The pairing seems to have worked. Kratysh has won all four tournaments she’s had since arriving in Canada – at Concordia University and the University of Toronto, as well as meets in Hamilton and Kingston.

“She has very good potential,” Zilberman said. “She’s enthusiastic, and we are using a very individualized program, very focused.”

Kratysh said that “it’s only been a few months [with Zilberman], and I’ve already changed a lot in my style.

“When I’m training here, time passes fast, and I can really feel the difference. He’s tough, but I really like his style.”

In February, Kratysh has a tournament in Austria and then it’s on to the European championships in March in Georgia, in the former Soviet Union.

Reinitz, a former Canadian wrestling champion himself, and his wife, Eleanor, are sponsoring Kratysh’s stay in Canada for four months, and she’s continually on the lookout for other sources of sponsorship and support.

At the Y, Kratysh says, she has found a true home away from home, where people greet her in Hebrew and she gets a chance to enjoy Jewish holidays.

“I will celebrate Chanukah at a synagogue,” she said. “It is so great to have this opportunity.”