Photographer: Paul Greenwood
Written by: Mark Janzen
Sean Duke is Canada’s all-time leading try scorer on the sevens circuit.
He has a Master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Victoria.
This fall, he will enter his second year of medical school at UBC.
During his eight years in Victoria with Canada’s men’s sevens program, from 2008 to 2016, he regularly volunteered with a variety of organizations, including Big Brother, Right to Play and Recreation Integration Victoria.
Understandably, Duke doesn’t have a lot of down time. However, on days that he does have some spare time, he finds himself searching Craigslist for day jobs – most recently inquiring about a posting that would pay $20 per hour to clean a boat, plus pizza and beer at the end of the day (true story, but the boat owner never returned his email).
And, according to former roommate and sevens teammate Harry Jones, “he’s the nicest guy in the world.”
Kind of sounds like a unicorn.
However, the product of Vancouver and graduate of Prince of Wales Secondary (2006), Duke is assuredly the genuine article.
“He’s one of the best Canadian rugby players in history,” Jones adds. “ And it just seems that everything he touches turns to gold.”
To those not in the know, Duke might seem to be an incredible rarity in the rugby world – perhaps the precise antithesis to every stereotype that lingers outside of the rugby community. In reality though, his rugby-playing path to his doctoral dreams might just be a chiseled framework that describes exactly what the rugby community is all about.
His passion for rugby, his drive to engage and help support his local community, and his brilliance both on and off the field are what made him so successful in his sporting sphere and so beloved beyond it.
“His work ethic is unbelievable,” Jones says. “You see him on the field working so hard and he’s the exact same with his studies. In sevens, you really need to think on the fly and I think that carries over into medical school.”
When Duke officially retired from the sevens program in the spring of 2016, he left a sport that he fell in love with more than a decade ago at Prince of Wales.
“Rugby is unique,” Duke says. “I’ve never been able to bond as well in other team sports as I have in rugby. I’m not sure if it’s the physical nature of the game or the fact we have beer-ups after every game or all the team-building things off the field. It’s a great way to meet friends and switch off from the outside world and just be in one place where you can express yourself and not worry about anything else for the time being.”
While he recently made a brief comeback with Canada’s 15s program – he slotted into the squad in the wake of several key injuries during the team’s June tour – these days it’s school first. He also plans to suit up with UBC’s team – Duke quite certainly subscribes to the “once a rugby player, always a rugby player” mantra – but for now, the books take precedence.
“Moving onto school has been different, but rewarding in a totally unique sense,” says Duke, whose desire to help – whether within his community, with his fellow students or with his teammates – shines through no matter the arena.
“Everything carries over, rugby or med school or helping kids, he has a mind for it,” Jones says. “He’s one of those guys who puts the time in and really cares.”
A recent interview with Duke was delayed by a few hours; he was picking up a bumper for his car at the scrapyard. He seemed happy that he found something “pretty close” to the gray of his car. It was cheaper than painting it. The day before, he was out on the water fishing with family. A couple of weeks prior to that, he “scrubbed in” and shadowed the Achilles surgery for Canadian national squad teammate Conor Trainor. Less than a month before that, he was finishing a five-week volunteer stint at the hospital on Haida Gwaii. A year or so before all that, he was capping his sevens career with his record 124th career try.
Just a regular guy – who happens to be his country’s greatest try scorer on a sevens pitch – working towards becoming a doctor.