She didn’t know it at the time but when Brittany Waters first stepped on a rugby pitch in her father’s hand-me-down jersey and shorts, it was because of the next two years.
In 2016, the oldest player with Canada’s national rugby sevens program, intends to play at the Rio Summer Olympics.
“We’re in the sevens program to be Olympians,” said the 30-year-old Waters. “That is the ultimate goal.”
Ranked third in the world, Canada won bronze at the 2013 sevens World Cup in Russia and the team is being rewarded for its potential. Own The Podium gives them $1.7 million each year, more than double the men’s program, which receives $750,000 annually.
Rugby Canada is building its rugby sevens program (played like 15-a-side rugby but with eight fewer players and wide-open action), notably through the national training centre in Langford on Vancouver Island where Waters and her teammates train five to six days a week from early morning to afternoon. They are focused on the Sevens World Series, the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and ultimately the Rio Games, where the sport will make its Olympic debut.
Waters, a York House alumna who competed for the Vancouver Meralomas after graduation, is one of 24 carded team members who also receive a $900 to $1,500 monthly stipend from Sport Canada. Federal funding means she can take a leave from her career as an occupational therapist and commit completely to training.
The 15s program, by contrast, is “pay to play,” said Waters, who is an assistant coach at the University of Victoria. She fundraises on the side and two years ago, sold a black-and-white, skin-bearing calendar with teammates.
The veteran players are also preparing for a 15s series against the U.S. later this month. Waters was one of 40 players invited to try out for the team that will meet the Americans April 15 and 19 on Vancouver Island.
Waters made her first appearance for Canada against the U.S. in 2008. Now an established veteran with more than 30 caps, her mindset has evolved as much as her skills.
“Because I’ve dedicated my life to this program and this is what I work for every day, there is a larger weight on a game and how I play compared to when I first started,” she said Monday.
When she compares herself to six years ago, she said she’s come a very long way. “I didn’t even know how to play rugby. That’s how I’d say it.”
The excitement that overwhelmed her during her first game for Canada was the hallmark of a rookie.
“Now I know my roll,” said the veteran.
“I don’t just walk away from a game and not look back. I analyze the game. I do something about it, whether it’s making small goals, or talking to the coach about it or understanding my game and how I can get better next time.”
Waters accepts the weight of expectation.
“I can definitely add a lot more to the team when I go on the field now,” she said. “I feel a lot more responsibility.”