Ful­ton tack­les ath­let­ics, aca­demics with de­ter­mi­na­tion

Hear­ing im­pair­ment doesn’t slow down X-women rugby player

The Casket - - Front Page - COREY LEBLANC coreyle­blanc@the­cas­ket.ca

Her eyes widen and a smile crosses Clau­dia Ful­ton’s face when she’s asked what she loves the most about rugby.

“Mak­ing a big hit — it pumps ev­ery­one up,” said the sopho­more flanker with the peren­nial pow­er­house St. F.X. X-women af­ter a re­cent prac­tice.

“Go­ing on a run is fun, but mak­ing a big hit,” she says, her smile get­ting even big­ger, “gets ev­ery­one fired up and makes ev­ery­one work harder.”

Make no mis­take, Ful­ton “loves the con­tact.”

“I try to get wher­ever I can — I al­ways want to be part of the ac­tion,” she said.

The Ayles­ford, N.S., na­tive tack­les aca­demics with equal fe­roc­ity. She is an Aca­demic Al­lCana­dian who sports a 91 per cent av­er­age in her pro­gram.

“I asked my friends, and they said I should go into en­gi­neer­ing,” Ful­ton said, not­ing they knew she was “re­ally strong in school, es­pe­cially math and science.”

That peer ad­vice came dur­ing a class at West Kings District High School in Auburn, Kings County while she was fill­ing out an ad­mis­sion ap­pli­ca­tion for a re­cruiter from neigh­bour­ing Aca­dia Uni­ver­sity in Wolfville.

“It has been the right one, so far,” Ful­ton said of her post-se­condary field of study.

The only draw­back is that she will have to leave St. F.X. af­ter next year, in or­der to com­plete her en­gi­neer­ing de­gree at Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity in Hal­i­fax.

“That’s the sad part,” Ful­ton said.

To help ac­com­mo­date her busy sched­ule, she de­cided to take three years to com­plete the tra­di­tion­ally two-year St. F.X. pro­gram. Ful­ton ex­cels on the field and in the class­room while liv­ing with pro­gres­sive cen­tral neu­ral hear­ing loss.

“It is al­ready get­ting worse,” she said.

Be­cause of the hered­i­tary con­di­tion — her mother, grand­fa­ther, aunt and cousin also have it — Ful­ton has worn hear­ing aids

since she was five.

“You have got to deal with it,” she said, not­ing that mak­ing jokes is one of her ap­proaches.

“I fo­cus on mak­ing it some­thing that doesn’t af­fect me that much.”

When she started play­ing, Ful­ton tried to wear her hear­ing aids, but they were too eas­ily po­ten­tially dam­aged be­cause of the phys­i­cal­ity of the sport. But she can’t hear with­out them, which has led to some in­ter­est­ing mo­ments on the field.

“There’s a lot of yelling in­volved,” Ful­ton said, with a laugh.

At times, be­cause she can­not hear any­thing, she has con­tin­ued to play af­ter the whis­tle has blown.

“My team­mates are like ‘chill out, she can’t hear,’” Ful­ton said of how they deal with up­set op­po­nents.

Once they know, her op­po­nents have been great, mak­ing note of her jersey num­ber in case it hap­pened again.

The ‘pinky prom­ise’

Grow­ing up in the An­napo­lis Val­ley, the el­dest of Sheila and Dan Ful­ton’s three chil­dren, she has al­ways had a “pas­sion” for all sports — “ev­ery­thing that I could (play).”

Ful­ton rat­tles off a list of the sports she’s tried, in­clud­ing rugby, of course, along with base­ball, soc­cer, track and field, soft­ball, vol­ley­ball and bas­ket­ball.

“It is funny be­cause my par­ents were not re­ally in­volved in sports, grow­ing up, but all three of us (are),” she added.

Ful­ton, along with her sib­lings Emma and Ri­ley, who are in Grade 11 and 9, re­spec­tively, were on a com­bined five pro­vin­cial teams this sum­mer.

“They have def­i­nitely be­come sports fans be­cause of us,” she said of her par­ents.

They don’t miss her games — whether it is in-per­son or via we­b­cast — un­less it is un­avail­able, which doesn’t sit well with them.

“They want to be at ev­ery­thing,” Ful­ton said, not­ing the cou­ple of­ten makes the six­hour round trip to Antigo­nish.

Her path to the home turf at Oland Sta­dium be­gan in the fourth or fifth grade, when a group of friends on the school bus, as Ful­ton put it, “pinky promised”

to play rugby in high school.

“I was the only one who did and I loved it,” she added, not­ing one other girl played in her se­nior sea­son.

Af­ter sit­ting on the bench for the first four matches of her Grade 9 sea­son, Ful­ton got her chance.

“The coach re­al­ized I was good — he had never seen me ac­tu­ally play,” she said, with a laugh.

Af­ter that, Ful­ton started every game dur­ing four high school sea­sons.

Off to Antigo­nish

When it was time to se­lect a uni­ver­sity, her “first choice” was UNB, but that changed af­ter her visit to the St. F.X. cam­pus.

“I just re­ally loved it — and here I am. I wouldn’t change it — it is the best de­ci­sion that I have ever made,” she added.

The stu­dent-ath­lete also took ad­vice from her pro­vin­cial coach

and tried out for the X-women.

Ful­ton not only made the cut with rugby X-women, but she also suited up for the St. F.X. bas­ket­ball team in the sec­ond half of her fresh­man sea­son.

“I was go­ing to try to do it this year. I would have loved to keep play­ing,” she said.

Ful­ton started train­ing camp with the bas­ket­ball team, but the new X-women coach­ing staff thought she “might be too far be­hind” once she tried to make the tran­si­tion af­ter rugby sea­son.

“She is so quiet and hum­ble — such a great young lady,” X-women rugby head coach Mike Ca­vanagh said of his sec­ond-year player.

“She is only go­ing to get bet­ter

and bet­ter.”

Ca­vanagh said her men­tal and phys­i­cal ap­proach is im­pec­ca­ble.

“She thinks of every de­tail and asks some great ques­tions,” he added of her ap­proach to the game.

Ca­vanagh said she will be “push­ing for a start­ing spot” and has the po­ten­tial to be “an amaz­ing player.”

Ful­ton de­scribed be­ing part of the X-women pro­gram as “re­ally great.”

“Ev­ery­one just helps each other — it is such a tremen­dous learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, which makes it so easy to get bet­ter every day,” she said.

Prac­tis­ing and play­ing with such high-cal­i­bre play­ers — and learn­ing from them and her coaches — has greatly im­proved her game.

“It is an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said.

Ful­ton noted the X-women spend a lot of time to­gether, both on and off the field.

“We are a big fam­ily. We are re­ally close,” she said.

‘The right bal­ance’

In her spare time — as lit­tle as there is — Ful­ton re­laxes by watch­ing TV and play­ing games with her team­mates and friends.

“We just like to have fun,” she said.

When it comes to jug­gling aca­demics and ath­let­ics, and find­ing some time to un­wind, “you have to find the right bal­ance,” she says, while mak­ing sure you plan.

“Ob­vi­ously, school is first — that’s why we are here.”

Be­fore Ful­ton started uni­ver­sity, she re­mem­bered she was cau­tioned to ex­pect lower grades. Her re­sponse?

“I am not go­ing to have that.” She’s “de­ter­mined and mo­ti­vated,” at­tributes that cer­tainly sur­faced this sum­mer while play­ing for Nova Sco­tia Keltics U-20 squad, when she dealt with in­juries, in­clud­ing a hy­per­ex­tended el­bow.

“It still doesn’t re­ally straighten all the way, but it is OK — it doesn’t hurt any more,” she said, with a laugh, while stretch­ing both arms in front of her to il­lus­trate the dif­fer­ence. There was also a bro­ken nose on the day be­fore the Keltics flew to Saska­toon for na­tion­als.

“I was at the hospi­tal, un­til mid­night, get­ting it fixed, and then got on a plane and went to play in na­tion­als,” she said mat­ter-of-factly.

‘Big goal’ When she heads to Hal­i­fax to con­tinue her stud­ies, Ful­ton will fo­cus on me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Dal.

“Some­times, I think I know ex­actly what I am go­ing to do and then I think of some­thing else and say ‘Maybe I want to do that,’” Ful­ton said when asked about her ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

Spe­cial­iz­ing in bio­med­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing may be the even­tual fo­cus.

“And just see what I can do with my ears,” Ful­ton said, de­scrib­ing it as a “big goal.”

“I want to try to fix them, I guess.”

As for de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy “to try to fix (her hear­ing loss),” she added, with a smile, “I might as well try.”

‘Pretty cool’

Be­fore that hap­pens, Ful­ton’s more im­me­di­ate fo­cus is help­ing the X-women cap­ture the fifth na­tional cham­pi­onship in pro­gram his­tory.

“That’s the big goal, and we can do it. We just have to do the work,” she said.

Ful­ton de­scribed hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to win the crown in her back­yard, with Aca­dia set to host the U Sports cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment in early Novem­ber, as “pretty cool.”

“I would have a lot of fam­ily and friends there, so it def­i­nitely would be some­thing spe­cial,” she said.

Corey Leblanc

Clau­dia Ful­ton, a na­tive of Ayles­ford, is a sopho­more flanker with the St. F.X. X-women rugby team, a peren­nial power in U Sports com­pe­ti­tion.

Corey Leblanc

Sheila and Dan Ful­ton of­ten make the drive from the An­napo­lis Val­ley to Antigo­nish to watch their daugh­ter, Clau­dia, play for the St. F.X. X-women rugby team.

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