<![CDATA[Canada captain Kelly Russell with future rugby players at BMO field, August 2011.

Kelly Russell loves playing rugby.

It’s why she wakes up early every morning. It’s why she trains every day. It’s why she dedicates much of her life to the sport. It’s also a big reason why she’s represented Canada on the international stage since she was 20.

In January, Russell moved out west to train with the National Women’s Sevens Team on a full-time basis, leaving behind friends and family back home. The centralization program, located at the Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence in Langford, British Columbia has given Russell and others the opportunity to train at great facilities with the best rugby players in the country.

“It’s definitely been extremely beneficial to have us all together,” said Russell. “Having the opportunity to train together everyday has built a strong cohesion within our squad. Another benefit is having instant feedback from the coaches and being able to turn around from a conversation and work on certain areas of your game right away.”

However, with it comes personal sacrifice, as these players have chosen to drop many non-rugby aspects of their lives and move from all parts of the country, coming together in training as one cohesive unit on an everyday basis.

“The choice to move out west was made a lot easier by the support I get from my friends and family,” said Russell. “To be immersed in rugby and to train in such a focused and engaging environment everyday is an opportunity that I am grateful to have.”

It also helps that Russell has been immersed in the sport for much of her life. Her father Sandy played the game as do her two sisters, Jennifer and Laura. Jennifer, the oldest of the three daughters, has represented Ontario at the provincial level and will be involved in coaching the sport. Laura, the youngest of the trio, has represented Canada as part of the National Senior Women’s Fifteens Team.

Despite her absence on the field, Kelly’s mother Judy also loves the sport, doing her best Carmen Sandiego impression as she follows her daughter around the world.

At the beginning of each year Judy and Sandy will sit down, working out holiday time while budgeting around Kelly’s playing schedule. With tournaments all over the world, the Air Miles add up quickly. From Fletcher’s Fields in Markham, Ontario to Twickenham Stadium in London, England, it has been a long journey for the Russell family.

The journey began with the Toronto Nomads Rugby Club, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. This is the club where Sandy played the sport and like father, like daughter, Kelly followed his lead.

“I grew up a Nomad, my dad played there before my sisters and I, so it has always been a part of my life,” said Russell, who has played at the club for over a decade. “The club has been a really big part of my support system from the start and I am extremely proud to represent them.”

Nomads Club President, Steve Darley, has high praise for the way in which Russell represents the club.

“Kelly is someone who has been associated with the Nomads for a tremendous period of time,” said Darley. “Kelly is highly dedicated to her rugby career. Her commitment to being the best is impressive and is certainly something junior players in our club can look to emulate as they develop.”

As for exposure, Darley understands the importance of having a Canadian international representing his club.

“It is great that the Toronto Nomads club is recognized when Kelly plays on an international stage,” said Darley. “It is hugely important that our club is seen as a viable option for those with international representation as a goal. We are proud that we have national players and it is great to be able to market the club to potential players that way.”

Darley also spoke to Russell’s character, one that explains all the success she has had in her sport.

“Kelly is someone who is fun to be around, has great energy and is generally a great role model,” said Darley. “She is humble amid all her success in her career so far. She is a shining example of rugby culture at its best, which is built on friendship, trust and loyalty.”

Those three character traits are also what make Russell a great teammate and mainstay on the Canadian Women’s Sevens Team; a team gearing up for an important run on the international stage.

It’s an exciting time for the Canadian women who are preparing for tournaments in London, May 11-12 and Amsterdam, May 17-18. With the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens set to go June 28-30 in Moscow, Russell and her teammates are entering crunch time.

“These next two tournaments are pretty important for us,” said Russell. “It’s that last chance we’ll get in some solid games before World Cup, and it’s a chance to really see what’s working and what’s not. The energy is high within this team and we’re looking forward to the challenges that these two back-to-back tournaments will give us.”

It started at Fletcher’s Fields over a decade ago and it continues at Twickenham Stadium next week. Those close to Russell think she’ll never stop playing the sport; she loves it too much.

“Rugby will always be a part of my life, it’s hard to even think of what that would be like to ‘hang up the boots’, but that’s not going to be anytime soon,” said Russell.

“I’m still loving what I’m doing.”

– Written by Nomads old boy Mark Sheldon for Rugby Canada]]>