Canada Calling: Olympic hopes soar for local rugby player

Olympic hopes soar for Cloverdale's Sarah Gordon, a rugby player and scientifically-minded scholar who's also a 'super role model' her coaches say.

Cloverdale's Sarah Gordon on the rugby pitch earlier this year.

It meant pulling an all-nighter, but what teenage girl could say no to her high school prom – or to competing at the provincials?

Grad weekend, Cloverdale’s Sarah Gordon found herself racing back to the mainland from Vancouver Island between games at the B.C. High School Girls Rugby Championship.

Lord Tweedsmuir had a game Thursday. Grad was Friday. “We were like, we can’t miss grad. And we can’t miss rugby,” recalls Gordon.

So she and another teammate piled onto a ferry to come back in time to fix their hair and get dressed for the big night, staying for the dry grad boat cruise, which didn’t return to dock until 5 a.m. Saturday morning.

“We literally got off the boat, ran down the street to where our parents were waiting with the van, with all our gear in the back,” Gordon says. “We took off our dresses, put on our sweat pants, lay down the seats, slept the whole way back to the island and then played a game.”

They won bronze.

That sort of commitment to sport – and life – might help explain why Gordon seems to be excelling in every direction she points herself, whether it’s designing a science project that earned bronze at Canada’s biggest science fair or being chosen for the National Under-20 Women’s rugby team.

In her senior year, she missed obtaining a 4.0 grade point average by just one mark, played on five different school teams (soccer, swimming, basketball, field hockey and rugby), and played with the Bayside RFC.

She and Team Canada were recently in Santa Barbara, California, for the Women’s U20 Nations Cup, which ran from July 14 to 23.

Women’s rugby in Canada is enjoying a renaissance of sorts; it’s rapidly-growing in popularity, boosted by strong high school programs like the one at LTS, regional clubs, and the performance of the senior Canadian Women’s national team.

But the inclusion of women’s rugby as an Olympic sport has really set things on fire.

And when the sport debuts in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Sarah Gordon plans to be there, playing for Team Canada.

“That’s my dream,” Gordon says.

At just 18, she’s one of the youngest players on the national U-20 team, and she was uncertain how she’ll fit in. At school, she played stand-off, “which is kind of like the director. They call the plays, they kind of run the show.”

Rugby, she says, is a “real thinking game,” where nothing happens twice the same way.

She loves the culture of rugby as well, something she learned first-hand during a year in New Zealand, a rugby powerhouse.

Players put aside their aggression and differences as soon as the game is over. “It’s all left on the field. There’s no drama.”

Gordon is the sort of student that teachers and coaches rave about, describing her as a “super role model”.

Her assistant rugby coach praised her level-headed leadership on the pitch and passion for the sport for helping win a growing tide of converts to Lord Tweedsmuir’s rugby program.

She’s a serious athlete, competing at the highest level for her age. But she’s also a serious academic, earning $5,500 in scholarship money in her home province along with cash and entrance scholarships worth $2,000 from universities in Ontario for her science fair project – news that shocked fellow grads and teammates.

“You’re smart?” they asked her. “People just assume ‘geek’ when they hear, ‘Science Fair’,” Gordon shrugs. “I try and own it.”

For her science project, she created a theoretical design of a home that combines existing technologies to enable patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia live independently longer.

“I don’t know how many girls can openly say they were at the Canadian Science Fair,” she says. “I try to show people that you can excel in more than one area, if you work hard. Don’t let people confine you.”

It wasn’t always this way. Like every teenager, she says, she went though her phase. Having survived it, she now strives to do her best.

“It’s cool to be smart,” she says. “It’s cool to be intelligent and work hard in school.”

She loves physics and plans to study biological sciences this fall at the University of Lethbridge, where she’ll play rugby under the direction of the same coach who’s working with the U-20 national team this July.

– Rugby Canada has put up a player page for sponsors. Sarah Gordon’s link is http://donate.rugbycanada.ca/e/sgordon.

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