For years, Jen Kish and her Rugby Sevens teammates toiled in relative obscurity. In just a matter of days, the Rio Olympics transformed them into Canadian sports heroes.
Kish, the 28-year-old Rugby Sevens captain and bronze medallist, spoke to Global News on Tuesday.
On achieving a dream
“I never thought that it would be possible to lead the Canadian team at the biggest stage in the world in sport and get a medal,” Kish said.
“It’s been a dream in the making. To now have rugby on the map in Canada is a real blessing and I’m so grateful.”
Kish said she had two goals going into the Olympic Games: to medal and to inspire the next generation.
If the response to the team’s success is any indication, she’s achieved both.
Motivating young people to get active and succeed in sport is a huge passion of hers.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and just give me a hug or say how we’ve inspired their children to join rugby, and that’s what you want.”
As a kid, sports kept Kish out of trouble and helped open doors for her as she grew up. She hopes rugby will continue to do that for Canadian youth and wants to use the momentum to grow the sport.
Strong like her
Canadian women put female athleticism in the spotlight in Rio. The soccer and rugby teams played a huge part of that, both earning bronze medals.
One father tweeted Kish that his six-year-old daughter saw her on TV and said to him: “I want to be strong like her.”
“That’s amazing,” Kish said. “You want kids pointing at the TV and seeing these strong female athletes and saying, ‘I want to be that person.'”
Kish said she herself was inspired by the Canadian Women’s Hockey team and its awesome run to a gold medal.
That energy and support for female athletes was alive and well in Rio, Kish said.
“What was really inspiring to me was seeing the male athletes of Team Canada back us and back the girl power and that was incredible. You don’t want the male versus female kind of thing. You want them to work together.”
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Her dad is her hero
Kish credits her father for supporting her – in life and in her athletic career.
“My dad is one of my heroes. He’s a single parent and he worked really hard to give me the opportunities that I have today.”
She said her father supported her in every way possible and making it to Rio was a small way she could say thanks.
“Going to the Olympics was my gift back to him,” Kish said. “He’s a very unselfish man.
“To all those single parents out there who are struggling: keep setting a great example for your kids and they’ll pick it up.
“I look up to my dad. I’ve seen him struggle and overcome adversity and that gave me the strength to do the same.”
The future of rugby in Canada
Since returning home from Rio, Kish’s life is very different than before the Olympic Games.
“There’s a lot of interest in the sport and I think that’s incredible because what we wanted was for rugby to grow and it has.”
She admits she’s being approached in grocery stores and hardware shops.
“I have random people coming up and hugging me and thanking for me for what we’ve done. That’s crazy! And people say, ‘Did you know her? Did you know him?’ Absolutely not. but I’ll hug you! Your support means a lot.”
Kish will be part of the Worlds Rugby Sevens circuit as her team plays in five stops this year, including Victoria, B.C.
“That’s a tournament that I highly suggest Canadians go to… you get to see the same level of rugby that you saw on TV at the Olympics. The rugby atmosphere is incredible… you can hear the collisions from the stands. I’m excited for Canadians to experience that.”
She hopes she’ll see some fans there to cheer the team on.
“I would absolutely love to play in Edmonton,” Kish said. “I have a club, the Edmonton Rockers. I plan on going back to that club and playing for them. I think some of the kids that will be playing in the club games will be shocked. I want to help as many people as possible to achieve their dreams now that I’ve achieved my dreams.”
Kish plans to visit schools and rugby clubs to continue to spread the word, get people excited about rugby and “spark some dreams.”
Her advice to young athletes: if you can dream it, you can achieve it.
“Nothing is impossible. You just need one person to believe in you. I believe anybody who can dream can achieve.”