Good things can happen when a little light goes on.
That's what happened this year to The Record high school athlete of the year.
"It really didn't get very good until this year. I just changed my attitude to everything, not just sports. I just rationalized that I should start working hard and get myself ready for the real world," said Monika Podgorski of New Westminster.
The St. Thomas More Collegiate senior had a coming-out final year, winning a provincial high school wrestling title, as well as helping the Knights girls' soccer team to a fifth-place finish at the AA provincial championships.
Along the way, the 17-year-old honour roll student earned an athletic scholarship for wrestling to Simon Fraser University, as well as helping her club soccer team, Cliff Avenue Synergy, to the under-18 national club championships later this year.
It all began last summer, Podgorski said.
"I thought, 'I'm going into my Grade 12 year' and I realized I had to get myself together. I learned time management, which is essential for university," she added.
Podgorski also committed herself to fitness and healthy eating, getting up each morning before school for a workout, while also preparing her own nutritious meals.
"I just became a lot more focused on school and needed to be with club soccer three times a week and wrestling two hours a day, plus homework on the weekends," Podgorski said.
Podgorski dropped weight and received lots of encouragement along the way, but still things had not quite fallen into place.
"I didn't really believe," she confessed. "But when I see results, something (in me) just clicks, and I go crazy on it, and I really get motivated."
Last season, she began training in wrestling at Burnaby Mountain and also won a spot on the backline of the former national club champion Synergy Metro league soccer team.
"Before, I never really believed in myself. But I do now, and believing in yourself really makes a big difference in how you perform. I didn't see the potential that others did," Podgorski said.
That potential was realized after four years of dedication, when she earned her first high school provincial medal in wrestling.
"Even in the past, even though I wasn't successful, my coach (Doug Corbett) made me stick with it. ... To be honest, I just figured I'd regret it if I didn't," she said.
Podgorski received a petition exemption into the provincials and went in a virtual unknown.
She won all of her preliminary matches before outpointing defending B.C. champion Briane Charles of Alberni District in the 64-kilogram gold-medal final.
Podgorski had previously lost to Charles earlier in the season at the SFU War on the Floor meet.
"I know people must have thought, 'Who is she?'"
Now they know, and Podgorski plans to take that advantage with her to Burnaby Mountain, where she hopes to use her 5-10 frame to good effect in the lighter women's weight class.
Podgorski also wants to relearn the piano and get out into the community to help others.
"I think it's good experience (for me) and for those you help," she said. "It shows how privileged we are for what we have. In a sense, I'm helping myself, but they're also helping me."
Three New Westminster Secondary Students also garnered votes in The Record high school athlete of the year balloting this season.
NWSS senior athletes of the year Kamila Rogic-McLean and Jamie Wandell were also considered. Rogic-McLean, who took part in soccer, track and field and cross-country, was also the school's career female athlete.
Wandell, a provincial AAA offensive lineman with the Hyacks varsity football team, played for the under-19 world team against the United States and was invited to a national underclassmen All-American game this season. He also competed in track and field.
Jessica Goodwin, the school's top female P.E. award winner, was also shortlisted.