By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
The 2018 Winter Olympics may have been held in PyeongChang, South Korea, but that didn’t stop a local middle school from getting a taste of the action.
R.I. Baker Middle School in Coaldale held an Olympic sports day on Friday, Feb. 16. Students participated in event such as hockey, a slide luge and an especially tasty donut eating challenge.
Capping off the day’s activities was Olympian Ashley Steacy, who was a member of the Canadian women’s rugby team that won bronze during the 2016 Rio Olympics, who came to share her Olympic experience. Steacy didn’t start playing rugby until she was in grade 10, older then the students at R.I. Baker.
“When I first started playing rugby, one of my goals was to be one of the very best players, rugby players in Canada. I said that very early in my career, probably about grade 12, when I’ve been playing for a couple of years, and I knew that rugby was my sport, I loved it so much, it was my passion, and I knew I wanted to go on and play rugby at the next level, at university and then on for Canada,” said Steacy. “In order to achieve my goal of wanting to be one of the best players in Canada, that meant I had to play a lot of rugby. So the next step for me after high school for me, was to play on to university, and play at a university level.”
Another goal of Steacy’s was to go to university and get a degree. Steacy told the students that she had to work really hard and study a lot to get good grades, as school didn’t come as easily for her as other students. Adding that she was a student athlete, she had to become very good at managing her time as well while she was studying for her undergrad at the University of Lethbridge.
During her university rugby career, Steacy became a three-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport champion, and was a two-time CIS Player of the Year after earning her undergrad at the University of Lethbridge. In 2007, she received her first cap with both Canada’s Women’s Sevens and Fifteens Teams in 2007.
In 2009, Steacy made the Canada’s team for the Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens. In 2010, she was with the fifteens team participating in the Women’s Rugby World Cup and in 2013 she won a silver medal playing in her second Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens.
In 2009, she became part of the national rugby team for the Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens, and in 2010, she was with the fifteens team participating in the Women’s Rugby World Cup and won a silver medal playing in 2013 playing in her second Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens.
At first, the team would travel to meet up, play and then the players would go home and train on their own, repeating the process six months later. But in 2012, the team had decided to centralize in Victoria, B.C., and in order to chase her new dream of becoming one of the best rugby players in the world, she had to move away from friends and family.
“My next goal, after wanting to be one of the best players in Canada, was to be one of the best players in the world, and in order to do that I needed to commit to coming out and going to that centralization program, and that meant coming out and moving away from my family, moving away from my husband. We owned a house in Lethbridge, and I decided to move out to Victoria and do long distance with my husband,” said Steacy. “He was such a huge support for me, but it was a very difficult move, but one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life was to commit to that dream of being one of the best rugby players in the entire world.”
The road to becoming one of the best rugby players in the world did not come easy.
In 2014, Steacy had to have shoulder surgery, which took her out of the game for six months as she recovered.
“It was a pretty hard for me, seeing my team progress and get better without me, and I felt that I was losing, I felt that I was not keeping up with them. I thought my team was just going to skyrocket to all the way to the Olympics and I wasn’t going to keep up with them,” said Steacy. “But one of the things I had to say to myself, was be comfortable being uncomfortable. I was in a very uncomfortable situation, being injured and not being able to play the sport I loved, and having to focus every day on rehab and what was my priority then was working on myself to get better, so that when I could eventually get back on the field, I would be able to join my teammates and play and make Canada better.”
After she recovered from her shoulder injury, Steacy played one of the “best seasons of my life” and was named to the 2014-15 World Rugby Women’s Sevens World Series Dream Team, which was composed of the best seven players among the teams in the world, and was named Rugby Canada’s Women’s Sevens Player of the Year for 2014. In 2015, she helped the Canadian rugby team place first at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
“I was so excited. I couldn’t wait for the next year which is the Olympics. It was Canada’s time, it was my time, I was supper excited to get going on that next exhibit.”
Nine months before the 2016 Rio Olympics, Steacy sprain the MCL in her left knee. Although an MCL sprain was not “too bad”, it still meant a three month recovery period. Steacy recovered and got back to her team and training, but adversity wasn’t done with her just yet. Six months before the Olympics, just four tournaments to go for then, Steacy tore her ACL in her right knee.
The anterior cruciate ligament () is a key ligament that helps stabilize the knee joint, and connects the thighbone femur to the shinbone tibia. It can take anywhere from nine months to over a year to recover from an ACL tear, and Steacy did not have that long to wait.
“When I found out from the MRI that my ACL was completely torn, all of my dreams, just gone. I didn’t think that I was going to be going to the Olympics,” said Steacy. “I ended up finding a surgeon, and my strength conditioning coach found this amazing surgery. I got what was called a LARS reconstruction, so I got a synthetic ACL, and I was recovered in four months. So in four months after my ACL tear, I was back on the field, playing full contact, and I had two month, to get ready and prepared with my team.
“Obstacles are put in your way to see if what you want is really worth fighting for. And that Olympic dream, for me, was really, really worth fighting for. And also we don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges.”
Steacy made it to the Rio Olympics. The rugby competition took place in the first three days of the Olympics, making it to the semi-finals on the third day, when they went up against the Australian team, which they ended up losing.
“Our whole goal going into the Olympics was to win a gold medal at the Olympics. And in that moment, losing to Australia in the semi-finals, we were absolutely gutted,” said Steacy. “But one of the cool things I’ll never forget for the rest of my life, is one of the leaders on the team, Ghislaine Landry, brought all of us together, and all of our heads were down and we were so disappointed, and she said, ‘Look ladies, if we don’t get over this lose right now, if we don’t get past this and think about the next game, we still have a medal to go out and win, we still have a bronze game to go out and play, and if we don’t get over this lose right now, we won’t be able to beat that team in the bronze medal game’. And over the course of the next two hours, it was really awesome to see kind of everybody’s head start to lift, starting to prepare for the next game. And we did it. We went out and won that bronze medal in that last game of our Olympic experience, and it was one of the biggest highs I’ve ever had; standing on the podium… it was such an amazing moment with that bronze medal around our neck.”
Steacy retired from rugby at the end of the 2017 season, and is currently coaching at the University of Lethbridge.
“As an Olympian, and as someone who has dedicated their life to sports, I think there’s great messages in sports and resiliency and having to face adversity,” said Steacy. “I had to go through a lot of adversity through my career, and I think it makes you a stronger person, and for kids to hear that at a young age, that life isn’t always perfect and you’re going to have to work hard, I think that is a great message.”