Blog — Gilbert Champions

Elliot's Experience and Rugby for All!

Elliot's Experience and Rugby for All!

I play as a prop on the Oshawa Vikings Men’s Mixed Ability Rugby Team. I play this position because I am a bigger, stronger guy that is healthy, exercises a lot and even learns how to tackle some of the biggest guys to the ground without getting hurt.
Mixed Ability is a sports program where players with and without disabilities play together where everyone is included, where everyone is treated the same, and where everyone is welcome. Playing on the Oshawa Vikings makes me feel happy and excited because I can make friends from all over the world when we do international tours and so I find it’s very inclusive to people with special needs. I have never felt so included as they accept me like one of the guys too.
You see I have faced many barriers in sports growing up. The barriers that I faced playing sport were that I was never included on any sport team all because people around me in high school knew that I had a disability and I was never included into any tournaments, nor did I ever get picked to be on any  any school sports teams. As I found out about leagues like Durham Region Challenger Baseball, Pickering Soccer Club, Oshawa Vikings Rugby Club, and Archery 2 You, people at those leagues started to include me and they even helped me better understand my accommodations, as well as my needs and wants too. Mixed Ability Sport helped remove those barriers and taught me the sky is the limit and nothing is impossible.
I have been playing rugby for three years now. I was able to represent my own country as I went to Cork, Ireland alongside with my teammates last summer and was able to participate in the IMART Tournament (International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament) in June of 2022. The following year this past May 2023, I was selected alongside with 4 other teammates from the Vikings to be a MARI (Mixed Ability Rugby Invitational) to play a select tournament in Belfast. The MARI team is by invite only and athletes from all over the world get picked to come together to form one team. We only had 2 days to practice and get to know each other before playing the big game. For IMART, our Mixed Ability team came in 2nd out of 24 other countries after only training contact for 6 months. We lost the MARI tournament to the Malone Tornadoes, but it was an incredible experience! I wrote a book about the IMART tournament called Mateo’s Mixed Ability Match and am now writing a second book called Mateo’s MARI Match about my experience on the MARI’s team.
IMART was fun because I enjoyed memorable moments, like making friends from other parts of the world, as well as chanting “ooh ahh, shoot the boot” multiple times after scoring my very first international try at the tournament. What happened was that I shot coke out of a game used dirty-rugby boot after scoring my very first game-winning try at the tournament. It is a real rugby tradition and I have never been able to experience this sort of stuff before. Being selected to the MARI’s team was an even bigger honour because it is by invitation only and you have to show that you have passion, commitment and like to help grow the game of rugby in order to be selected. For both tours I got to go to Ireland and that was also an experience in and of itself as I had never been to Ireland before.
My important message that I want to give to others who think they can’t play rugby is to get active, enjoy life, have fun, be healthy, and join a rugby team that is close to within your area so you can feel like that you are a part of a team. It will help your confidence and make you feel like you can achieve anything.      

Celebrating the incredible women in Canadian Rugby on International Women's Day

International Women's Day - celebrating Canadian women in rugby
A moment to reflect on three incredible leaders in rugby in Canada - Ngalula Fuamba, Karen Paquin & Brittany Kassil (L to R)

On International Women's Day we want to take a moment to share our gratitude for the incredible women of Rugby Canada's Womens XV team. If playing at the highest level wasn't impressive enough, Karen Paquin, Ngalula Fuamba & Brittany Kassil are all working to grow the game through leadership positions in their respective clubs, through coaching, and through initiatives to encourage ALL girls and women to pick up a rugby ball. 

All three women played for Canada in the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year and were part of the team that truly was the story of the tournament. 

 The Canadian Women’s team made an unforgettable impact on rugby last November in New Zealand. The global rugby family was buzzing about Canada vs. The Roses as we all sat on the edge of our seats watching the amateur Canadians led by Captain Sophie De Goede - who recently graduated from Queens University - take on undefeated England led by Sarah Hunter - a professional player who has been playing on the national team since 2007 (when Sophie was just 8 years old!). This match was to be a predictable step on England’s path the finals, but was anything but, with Canada pushing England much of the match.

(in case you missed it check out the highlight reel here - it should come with a goosebumps warning!)

It is a match that will be talked about for years, leaving impressions on the future generations of rugby players.

Canada did not win the World Cup, but that performance has also prompted many in the Canadian rugby community (as well as fans around the world) to ask - how much would it cost to bring home gold? Canada does so much RIGHT in rugby. Our women’s and men’s team athletes receive equal pay for playing (which depends on if they play 15s or 7s and how many matches and training camps they attend). This is likely unique in rugby across the world, and something to be proud of. But to attend a centralized training camp in advance to the RWC 2021 the women created their own “Go Fund Me” page to crowd fund this. The financial circumstance also had athletes billeting at family homes to offset living expenses.

In researching the salaries of other teams in women’s rugby we found some varying amounts for what the actual salaries are, but it is clear that England as well as many other top rugby countries have fully professional women’s teams. This means that these athletes in a RWC lead up can focus on their training, not needing to hold down part time jobs, or take sabbaticals from "day job’s" to focus on training.

Imagine the mindset of an athlete who has been couch surfing with friends, worrying about how much they can spend on groceries, and just generally needing to rely on support from family or their parter in order to compete going up against a team of professionals who are focused on training at the highest level without these stresses - it is a David and Goliath story for modern day sport. This makes the Canadian women all the more amazing. They went to win and it showed.

Canadian Women’s Coach Kevin Rouet couldn’t be prouder of the team and their outcome.
“In other unions, the girls are paid to be there. In Canada, we are not in this situation at all, even though we are highly ranked as a country. If you look at the top 10 in the world, we must be one of the smallest budgets… So, the value of sacrifice, the value of work are all the more important. On the contrary, it is an additional motivation to say to ourselves that there are perhaps federations that are more fortunate than us, but we are a working country, we are a country that knows the value of sacrifice… And then you can see it when they train. When you have left your job and you lose money to come here, you know why you are here. It can be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage, it can be both. But for us, we take it as an advantage in the end not to have everything easy…In addition, these last few months, I've asked a lot from them, like never before. It was complicated because they had to get along with their work. We have girls in the team who work, who are not full-time players. So obviously, it's always a bit complicated. We have players who have left their jobs anyway or were on a sabbatical leave to go to Rugby World Cup 2021.”
You can read the full RWC article here

Knowing that the Canadian Women face more obstacles than most professional sports teams, is makes what they made happen in 2021 Rugby World Cup that much more impressive. Gilbert Rugby Canada is proud to work alongside many of these phenomenal women, who are not only CHAMPIONS on the pitch, but also championing the game through leadership, coaching and building the sport for future generations of girls and women. 

 Finally.... if you need a little injection of excitement...
We can't get tired of watching and re-watching Karen's INSANE try at RWC 2021
At Gilbert Rugby Canada we work to support girls and women in rugby and proudly ensure that all our partnerships require equal support of women's and men's teams. We are also proud to support U Sport rugby in Canada since its inception, with the Monilex Cup



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