O CANADA

PAQUIN KNOWS SAC­RI­FICE

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - NEIL DAVID­SON

Karen Paquin has given up her job twice for her coun­try.

The flanker from Que­bec City hopes to make that sac­ri­fice pay off this month in Ire­land where Canada, run­ner-up three years ago in France, looks to win the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

The Cana­dian women, cur­rently ranked third in the world, open Aug. 9 against No. 23 Hong Kong in Dublin.

Paquin, who turns 30 on Thurs­day, left her job as a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer and her fam­ily some five years ago to come west and try out for the na­tional sev­ens team. Then, af­ter help­ing Canada to a bronze medal at last sum­mer’s Rio Olympics, she gave up her carded sta­tus with the sev­ens squad to re­join the 15s team.

Un­like the men’s 15s squad and both the men’s and women’s sev­ens sides, the women’s 15s team is not of­fi­cially cen­tral­ized and re­ceive no card­ing money, although some play­ers get some fi­nan­cial help from their provinces.

“For me, prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult part of this year was to step away from that very or­ga­nized and very sup­ported group that the sev­ens pro­gram is,” said Paquin, Canada’s fe­male sev­ens player of the year in 2015. “And move into the world of not get­ting any money and look­ing for my train­ing my­self,” she added.

“It took me a lit­tle time to adapt to that new sit­u­a­tion, but at the same time I was so lucky to have my hus­band sup­port me, to help with the fi­nances and ev­ery­thing ... We man­aged to find a new com­fort zone out of it, I would say. But that’s the main chal­lenge of the 15s pro­gram — that we have to man­age the whole fi­nan­cial thing at the same time that we are be­ing elite ath­letes.”

Play­ing for this Cana­dian side clearly comes at a cost.

“It comes with a lot of pride, but it also comes with a lot of choices — choices that are hard to do for some peo­ple,” she said. “But for me it’s pur­su­ing a dream and I think it’s the same thing for most of us.”

Paquin has been one of the lucky ones, re­ceiv­ing in July a $5,000 bur­sary from Team In­vestors Group Am­a­teur Ath­letes Fund.

“Oh my God, I was so happy when I re­ceived the mes­sage. It couldn’t come at a bet­ter time ... I’m so happy and hum­ble to be se­lected be­cause I know there were a ton of ath­letes who ap­plied,” she said

Paquin’s hope is that if her team suc­ceeds, it will help pave the way for the next gen­er­a­tion of rugby play­ers. She be­lieves a long line of women have been pass­ing the rugby torch in Canada to im­prove con­di­tions. Also to show­case the sport.

“I think Cana­di­ans love rugby,” said Paquin. “They just don’t know it. Be­cause it’s such a good sport. It’s ag­gres­sive, it’s fast. It’s a sport that Cana­dian fans would love if only they had ac­cess to it.”

Prior to last sum­mer, the women used to have to help pay the costs of camps and tours. Rugby Canada set up the Monty Heald Fund — named af­ter the late for­mer Rugby Canada pres­i­dent — to help end that prac­tice through do­na­tions.

In 2016, the fund con­trib­uted $75,00 to the women’s pro­gram for camps and com­pe­ti­tions. This year the fig­ure is $250,000, ac­cord­ing to Rugby Canada. “That’s been a huge win for us,” said Paquin, who cred­its Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen for try­ing to cre­ate a level play­ing field for the women.

The money is needed. World Rugby cov­ers travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion at the World Cup but not for the prepa­ra­tion.

Paquin, who started in the 2014 World Cup fi­nal when Canada was beaten 21-9 by Eng­land, says the team en­ters this tour­na­ment with a feel­ing of unfinished busi­ness.

“I’m very ex­cited. We have a good group of ath­letes for this World Cup and at the same we know that it’s a whole new jour­ney, it’s not just the ex­ten­sion of that World Cup.”

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Canada’s Karen Paquin is tack­led by Great Bri­tain’s Al­ice Richard­son dur­ing the bronze-medal match in women’s rugby sev­ens at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio last Au­gust. Paquin has given up her job twice for her coun­try.

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