A Triumphant Return
Stingers Star Rugby Player Aims for Nationals After Missing 2012 Season to Injury
Everyone’s been told at least once in their life: it doesn’t matter that you fall, it matters that you get back up.
Most use it as a metaphor. For Hughanna Gaw, it’s a saying that carries a literal sense.
Making her debut with the Concordia Stingers women’s rugby team in 2009, Gaw quickly established herself as an elite player, earning rookie of the year honours in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport that year, becoming the first ever rugby player from the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec conference to do so.
Gaw’s individual success was soon followed by team success, as she helped lead the Stingers to a silver medal at the 2010 Nationals—the team’s best finish in its history.
The Stingers looked poised to return to nationals for the second straight season, making it all the way to the 2011 provincial final against the Laval Rouge et Or.
That’s when Gaw’s—and the team’s—fortunes took a turn for the worst.
“Probably 20 minutes into our game versus Laval I heard a crack,” said Gaw.
She had no idea she’d just fractured the lower part of her left kneecap.
Her coaches didn’t know the gravity of injury either, and asked her if she could play through it. She said yes.
“It’s maybe not the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Gaw. “I was injured; I should’ve probably come off the field, but I’m stubborn sometimes.
“I didn’t want to get off the field and leave my team in the finals.”
The Stingers lost the game 43-27.
To make matters worse, Gaw paid dearly for her stubbornness, as her fractured knee forced her to sit out the entire 2012 season.
Prior to the provincial final, Gaw suffered a stress fracture on her left knee in the first week of the season. A few weeks of rest would’ve been enough to heal that minor damage, but Gaw’s injury went undiagnosed, leading her to aggravate it until it grew into a full fracture.
“I went to see doctors, did MRIs and X-rays and [the doctors] found nothing wrong, so we didn’t look further,” said Gaw, explaining why she kept playing even though she knew something was wrong.
“I guess stress fractures are easy to diagnose, but I guess you have to know what you’re looking for to diagnose it. If I’d went back a couple weeks later, they probably would’ve seen it.”
Life on Crutches
After undergoing knee surgery in August 2012, Gaw had to adapt to a new lifestyle, using a walker to move for eight weeks before finally starting rehabilitation the following November.
“I had never been on crutches before, so it was more difficult than what I’d expected,” she said. “I had to crutch to school and I had to crutch around everywhere, so everything took 20 minutes longer.”
It was even harder for Gaw to watch her teammates winning the RSEQ finals that season, which earned them a place at Nationals in Nova Scotia.
“I was so happy for them when they went to Nationals,” she said.
“It’s hard to watch your team and know that there’s nothing you can really do for them, but they played well and made it easier to watch.”
Gaw’s rehabilitation lasted nearly a full year, having been cleared to play just this past August.
“I missed playing rugby a lot, it’s exciting to be back on the field and a little nerve-racking at the same time because I’ve been gone for so long,” she said.
Gaw is ready to turn the page on her injury and is confident that she can play without fear of reinjuring her knee.
“I’ve put a lot of time into rehab, I feel confident that my knee will hold up,” she said.
Team head coach Graeme McGravie is equally confident.
“The first two games she played are an indication that there’s no lingering effects from the knee injury that she had two years ago,” he said. “She’s been by far our best player so far in our two league games.”
Even if the Stingers made it to Nationals last year without her, Gaw’s return to the team is nonetheless a welcome one.
“Losing her on and off the field, just [being] without her was difficult,” said McGravie.
“She’s a massive impact player, she doesn’t miss any tackle, [it feels] amazing to have her back,” he added.
“She’s just an outstanding player; she’s a leader by example, and every time you have somebody of her quality out there it definitely makes you a better team.”