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Jen Kish: A Sevens Legend Retires

Written By: Andrea Burk She’s tenacious, hard working, and a fighter. She stands up for issues involving cancer, gender equity, and youth involvement in sport. She’s outspoken and a bit rebellious, but she also loves a good joke, good tunes, and is quick to laugh. She also has become one of the most recognizable rugby athletes that Canada has ever produced. Playing on the National Senior Women’s Sevens Team (NSW7s) is no easy feat. While the posts on Instagram show these hard-working athletes travelling the world playing a sport they love, the fact is that's only one side of their reality. Social media rarely shows the details of what they put into their careers; or the extent to which they push their bodies, their relationships, their minds, and their hearts. All for a dream, of pursuing excellence, to skirt any future 'what if' kind of regrets. All to experience again and again those moments of freedom, which are so so sweet and keep calling back for more. Jen Kish is no exception to the rule. In fact, she might just be the rule along with other long-time NSW7s legends who have also been there from the start (you know who you are). Jen speaks about her experience vying for a spot on Canada’s National 7s team in CBC’s Player’s Voice. Kish, like many of these athletes, has played through significant injuries over the past years. What kept her going in the face of adversity was the feeling of freedom she experienced when she played, her supportive teammates, and a deeply rooted purpose (i.e., her “why”): Her dream to play for Canada and to go to the Olympics. Having accomplished both those goals with much admired hardware (a PanAm Games gold, a Rugby 7s World Cup silver, an Olympic bronze and two HSBC World Rugby 7s titles – just to name a few), Kish has decided that she can no longer quiet the recent injuries that have plagued her. These are the very same injuries that effectively took her out of selection for the Commonwealth Games.
“I wanted to make it back for the Canadian stop in Langford, except that I’m just one player and the team needs to develop and trial before the World Cup,” Kish says of deciding to call it a career two and a half months before the Rugby 7s pinnacle event July 20-22 in San Francisco. “The reason for my retirement is injuries. It doesn’t make sense to play through Langford when I don’t know if I can play in Paris or San Francisco after that. I’d be, potentially, taking away a spot from another athlete that needs to get those games in prior to the World Cup. The team needs time to gel.
“It’s a difficult decision, because I know I’m still playing good rugby, it’s just getting harder to play through and the team needs to focus on the World Cup.”
Another difficult thing Jen speaks of about retiring mid-season due to injury is that her athlete funding has now ended, and she is largely responsible for seeking treatment to rehabilitate her injuries on her own. This is a similar reality that many other Canadian athletes have experienced when retiring due to injury. Along with rehab and building her home on an Albertan acreage with her partner, Kish’s retirement dreams are more than a rocking chair on the veranda while watching the birds and the sunset. She’s hoping to open a gym where she can train clients and help them reach their fitness and weight loss goals. This is something that has rung true for Kish since before rugby sevens was an Olympic sport. If she puts half the effort into this dream as she has put into her rugby dream, her franchise will no doubt be a success. Something crazy about her original Olympic Dream of playing hockey on Canada’s Olympic Team, was that she never even played hockey as a kid. She said, “we were poor and couldn’t afford it.” Yet her Olympic dream was still sparked; which is something she has surely done for thousands of other young girls and boys whether or not they’ve even started playing rugby. Congratulations on an exquisite career, Kish. It has been a pleasure to play beside you, laugh with you, and watch you grow as a person and a leader over the last 10 years! All the best in your next chapter.