Community & Current Events

Olympic rugby player Jen Kish on taking her team to Rio

By: Stacy Lee Kong
Olympic rugby player Jen Kish on taking her team to Rio

Rugby player Jen Kish. Author: Getty Images

Community & Current Events

Olympic rugby player Jen Kish on taking her team to Rio

By: Stacy Lee Kong

Canada’s rugby sevens team captain talks about putting 
in the work, raising rugby’s profile in Canada and what it means to lead.

That Jen Kish, the 28-year-old captain of the women’s rugby sevens team (with seven players, instead of the conventional 15), is passionate about leading her teammates to Olympic greatness is probably not a surprise to anyone who knows her. A former personal trainer, this Albertan is all about inspiring people.

Still, being named captain wasn’t a sure thing, perhaps because she readily admits she’s a bit of a goofball and not big on, well, rules. “Back in 2012, I sat in a room with two of my coaches and I said, ‘I want to lead this team, and I think I can be really great at it,’” she recalls. “They looked at me, then one of them said, ‘I’m not entirely sure about this.’ ”

But Jen convinced her coaches to give her a shot at the 2012 World Cup qualifier in Ottawa. She spent as much time devouring leadership books as she did training for the competition and, after the team finished second, the captaincy was officially hers. “It was a huge honour—and a big responsibility,” she says. “My coach always says, ‘You might be born with leadership qualities, but you have to do the work to be a great leader.’ ” That means motivating her teammates, and giving them room to lead, too. And when she can help her team play better, there’s nothing more rewarding.

Of course, with the Olympics on the horizon, the glory factors in as well. Jen isn’t shy about her goals; she aims to be the world’s best rugby player and to win a gold medal. But even accolades are in pursuit of something bigger: her sport’s place on the Canadian stage. “A podium finish would be life-changing for rugby in Canada,” she says. “I can see it becoming one of the leading sports in our nation if our cards play out right in Rio.”

Another leadership task Jen excels at is choosing the right team cheer to kick off each game. Recently, she marathon-watched all 12 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, which led to a stretch of McDreamy-inspired speeches on the field; McDreamy begins every surgery by saying, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.” Jen’s spin? “It’s a beautiful day to play some rugby.” Because to her, it always is.

Jen’s Quick Questionnaire

1. What's your good-luck charm? I don’t really have one! But I do have a routine that I follow—on game day I always call my partner, and she gives me her little speech: “Oh, you’re going to be great, just go lead the girls.” It’s the same speech every single time. I don’t know if she knows she doesn’t change it, but the only thing that really changes is her tone. She’s either excited or really excited, depending on who I’m playing.
2. What song do you play to pump yourself up? It used to be a song called Watch Me Rise, but now it’s Nah Tell Dem by Sanjin, Walshy Fire & Salvatore Ganacci.
3. What food is your guilty pleasure? I’m a breakfast person, so I like crepes, French toast, pancakes
4. What's your biggest fear? Getting an injury before a pinnacle event like the Olympics.
5. What's your favourite quote/mantra/affirmation? Talent gets you noticed, but hard work keeps you noticed.
6. If I weren't an athlete, I'd be… a personal trainer.
7. I'm proud to be Canadian because… we really come together as a nation to help others. I like that when there’s a crisis in the world, Canada’s the first to put up their hand and say, “We got this. We’ll help you out.” If we have the means to do it, we will help.
8. Someday I hope to… I would really love to drive a Lamborghini one day, because unless you’re filthy rich, it’s just not something you’re gonna do. I would love to take a Lamborghini on the Autobahn!
9. Right now I'm reading or watching… I watch a lot of TV. I think I have 32 [shows] on the go. But the most recent was Grey’s Anatomy. I had never seen it before in my life, so I just watched 11 seasons.
10. One thing you probably don't know about me is… I have inside clothes and outside clothes. You know how some people might go out, then come home and lay on their bed without changing? I can’t do that. I have inside clothes that can only go in my bed. That’s it.
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Olympic rugby player Jen Kish on taking her team to Rio