EDMONTON — Jen Kish is grateful for almost everything rugby gave her.
The pride of playing for her country, the honour and responsibility of being named captain, the privilege of travelling the world, the camaraderie of teammates, the adoration of fans, the attention of the media.
“Rugby has given me a life that I am proud to be living today. … I would not be the person I am today if it was not for rugby and all the support I have received along the way,” she said Monday, after her anticipated retirement had been fast-tracked and made official.
But rugby, the game she loved to play for more than a decade, also left her body in distress. The 29-year-old from Edmonton has a hip labral tear from last May at the Langford Sevens and two slipped discs in her neck left over from the Clermont Sevens in 2016.
Doctors told her the only way to get better is to stop playing and undergo surgery, so she improvised, skipping the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, and called it quits a bit earlier than planned.
“Although these two massive injuries have not prevented me from performing, they have been physically challenging and mentally crippling for me and I’ve reached my capacity to play through it,” Kish said. “The decision came down to risk versus reward. It would have been amazing to finish my last season the way I intended to, but I am still very proud of what I have accomplished in my career, and I am excited to watch the next generation continue to carry on the program’s legacy.”
To prepare for a healthy life after sport, she got herself on a list for surgery. But it could happen tomorrow or three months from now. Whenever she goes under the knife, she’ll likely be unable to keep working as a personal trainer at her Edmonton-area home gym for perhaps several months.
And the minute she made her retirement official, she lost her $1,750 monthly funding from Sport Canada. She didn’t want to stay on the pitch just for the stipend, denying someone else a chance to start a rugby career, but the decision to quit now comes with financial complications.
“That’s pretty tough. It was a very difficult decision,” she said.
She said there is a $5,000 grant available to retiring athletes and she will be applying for it. She will also continue to take on public speaking roles. And, while she is hesitant, if push really comes to shove, she would consider a crowd-funding effort to tide her over until she can work full time again.
That’s a last resort only for a proud self-starter who has led the way for Canada and helped pave the way for another generation of players.
Starting in the 15-a-side game, she was a provincial-level player at age 16, and captain of the under-19 team. Stardom came in the sevens though, after being urged by coach John Tait to make the move.
Kish captained Canada to a silver medal at the 2013 World Cup Sevens, a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
“To have the opportunity to put on the Canadian jersey for the past 13 years has been an absolute privilege. To lead the team has been an honour and a dream. I wore the jersey with a lot of pride and nothing will ever come close to giving me that same feeling,” she said.
“What made putting on the jersey so special though were my teammates. To be surrounded with like-minded people who grind it out each day for each other, willing to do whatever it takes, is why I took so much pride in the jersey.”
She was also a former finalist for the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year award, and a pioneer of the discipline for Canada.
“I consider her and a handful of others as the foundational players this program’s success was built on,” Tait said. “Her growth into becoming one of the most consistent performers not just for our team but in the world of women’s sevens was crucial for not only our team’s success but for the growth of rugby in Canada. She has helped inspire so many young girls to take up the game and be like her.”
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