Adapting to life off the field

Trio of Stingers rugby players face the reality of a cancelled season

  • Stingers men’s rugby players are trying to fill the void left by a cancelled season. File Photo Dustin Kagan Fleming

Temperatures are dropping and the leaves are falling. Typically, these are signs that the Réseau du sport étudiant de Québec rugby season is well underway—but not this year.

A trio of Stingers athletes are shifting their focus elsewhere as COVID-19 shuts down U SPORTS seasons across Canada, in view of the growing global pandemic.

COVID-19 has grounded the ball for rugby players throughout the country, leaving a large void to be filled in the schedules of student athletes that are normally unforgiving at this time of the year.

Robert Da Rocha, Victor Dion, and Ben Laurin of the Concordia men’s rugby team find themselves amongst the long list of athletes nationwide in this unusual position.

So, how does this situation affect their schedules?

While Dion and Laurin say they will use the spare time to focus more on school and personal training, Da Rocha plans on using it otherwise.

“Sleep.”

The Hudson native was quick to point out how the lengthy commute to and from Concordia every day left him little time to rest, and acknowledged that fatigue was a factor come season’s end.

“Travelling to Concordia every day for practice, ending practice late, coming back and then you have to make food, you got to get some work done and then you have to be up early to do it all again the next day,” Da Rocha said. “You definitely lack some sleep.”

As for the RSEQ’s Sept. 14 announcement regarding the cancellation of all university sports in Quebec, it came as no surprise to the group.

“I think we all kind of saw the writing on the wall,” said Da Rocha.

Although disappointed, they realize that some things in life are bigger than sports; in this case, their own safety and that of their peers is one of them.

“I don’t think there is anything they could have done,” Laurin said.

Rugby Quebec offered alternatives to the scrapped season, with modifications to the rules. But after weighing the risk factors, the group came to a conclusion that it simply was not worth it.

“The rules were so modified, it’s almost not even the game that we signed up for—it’s a completely different game,” he said. “If there’s such a risk of infection, contamination and spreading the virus, we might as well play it safe and only practice amongst us,” added the third-year winger.

Head Coach John Lavery has encouraged his players to maintain a strong team dynamic despite the cancelled season. Da Rocha, Dion, and Laurin echoed their coach’s desires, emphasizing the significance of building team chemistry. They did, however, admit it is tougher this year.

“Not seeing the team and not having those team events as often makes it a little harder to click right off the bat with some of the older guys, but I think it will progress throughout the year,” said Laurin, who is entering as a rookie.

From a different perspective, as veterans, Da Rocha and Dion said it is tougher to get to know the rookies and incorporate them, without getting the chance to see them four or five times a week as they would in previous years.

“I think we all kind of saw the writing on the wall.” – Robert Da Rocha

Filling in the blank

While on-field activities remain limited, some of the players have turned to fantasy football, as well as golf, as a way to burn off from some of their competitive nature and, perhaps, claim bragging rights.

Aside from enjoying commissioner duties for the fantasy league, Dion is using the hiatus as an opportunity to excel academically, while making some money on the side—something he felt was impossible last year.

“I’ve been way more on top of things school wise than last year, so most of my time goes there. I’m working part-time as well,” said Dion. “There’s a bunch of stuff that I wanted to do last year but I didn’t have the time; now I can because I [do].”

Da Rocha has taken his talents from the field to the kitchen throughout the pandemic, discovering a love for cooking and even sharing his finished products via social media.

“I started a cooking Instagram ,” expressed Da Rocha, saying it all started with a “bomb mac and cheese.”

2020 has generated adversity in more ways than anyone could have ever imagined, and online learning is no exception to that. When asked about the transition to the newest educational platforms, there was one word that stood out among the group—tough.

“Even though I have more time, it’s still hard to stay disciplined, because there’s no motivation to open your computer and go to class,” admitted Dion. “It’s just boring.”

Athletes are creatures of habit and having to restructure their entire daily routine has caused headaches for them, given the distractions they are exposed to while studying in a home environment.

“There’s no structure to your day,” said Da Rocha. “For the past 22 years of our lives, everything has been structured with school and then overnight, one day you’re in school and the next you’re not in school. Everything is recorded, everything is online, so there’s no adjustment period to learn how to teach yourself.”

Laurin, who is making the transition to university from CEGEP said he “needs the structure. That’s what’s been the biggest challenge.”

Though the fall rugby season has been cancelled, the trio remains optimistic for a Sevens season in the winter. They think Sevens is the most socially distant form of rugby, alluding to the reduced contact and limited number of players on the playing field.

“Honestly I think the Sevens season could happen. It might be delayed or pushed back, but I can see it happening,” Dion said.

In a six-month stretch filled with the unknown, the boys never felt like they were left searching for answers, crediting their coach for constantly keeping them in the know.

“I think [Lavery] did a pretty good job at keeping us updated,” said Da Rocha. “As soon as he got new info, he would schedule a meeting and let us know what was going on.”

The Stingers rugby team is taking a day-by-day approach to the situation as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the province of Quebec. Rules and regulations can change drastically overnight, but for now, Concordia does have the green light to train as a team; a privilege the trio said they are grateful for.

So, where do they go from here?

It’s simple—“We’re practicing until they tell us we’re not allowed anymore,” said Laurin.

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