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Twin Lakes student finds her stride on the rugby field

Ryan Dunn wasn't interested in playing at first but has developed a love for the sport; She helped lead her team to a provincial championship this summer

Ryan Dunn represented Orillia well at the recent provincial Under 19 Rugby Championship in Markham.  

Dunn scored a try during the opening game and helped her Barrie Rugby Football Club garner gold and bring a provincial title back to Simcoe County.

Although the 15-year-old Dunn played the most meaningful games of the season with the U-19 club, she spent most of the season playing with the U-17’s. 

Thanks to her skill level and ability to play multiple positions, she was called up to the big squad on multiple occasions during the season.

“My U-17 coach recommended me as a player. I have been playing for six years now, so he thought I had enough experience and they needed someone who could play multiple positions, so they called me up,” Dunn explained.

Dunn played two games during the provincial tournament, including the championship-clinching 32-17 win over Oshawa.

“It was a great experience to play on a team that hasn’t lost in two years. They were very motivated to win,” said the Twin Lakes Secondary School (TLSS) student.

“It is something I will always be able to look back on and remember that I was a part of it," she said.

Dunn started her rugby career when she was nine - against fierce competition.

“I started playing rugby six years ago and I started with the boys,” Dunn said.

“My parents signed me up. I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t understand the sport and I really didn’t want to play with boys because they don’t pass to you and they don’t think you are good enough to play with them,” Dunn said of her initial distaste for the sport.

Despite that, she ended up falling in love with the sport, and, she quipped, the boys became tolerable.

“I ended up liking it because the boys were actually scared to hit the girls until they realized the girls could actually take the hits. So, after our first couple of games, that’s when I started to get the ball more and started hitting,” Dunn said.

Like any athlete, Dunn remembers her first great moment in her sport.

“I remember the first time I scored a try was in a Barrie tournament. It was the first time someone actually passed me the ball and the boys were cheering me on,” she remembers.

“I started to build a bond with the boys after that, and if that didn’t happen and they didn’t include me with trying to get points, I don’t think I would have kept playing.”

Dunn’s initial seasons of rugby, playing with boys, helped her become a better player. The experience of being included by her teammates was a feeling that she kept in mind later in her career. 

Dunn used her hard-earned skills when she started playing girls’ rugby and she was recognized as a team captain twice last season with her U-17 team.

“I take on a leadership role. I like to make everyone feel included on the team and make sure everyone is having a good time and getting a chance with the ball,” Dunn said.

As a Grade 9 student at TLSS last year, Dunn made the rugby team and faced the challenge of her first major injury.

Dunn was rocked while carrying the ball and was forced to leave the field via an ambulance.

“I got clotheslined and my body flipped. I landed on my neck, so I had to leave wearing a neck brace in an ambulance,” Dunn explains of the scary incident.

“At first, I couldn’t feel my feet. I had to get an X-ray and spent about three hours at the hospital and had some muscle damage.”

You would think a player might be tentative to get back onto the field after an injury like Dunn’s, however, she was more concerned with getting back onto the field than her own health.

“I tried to get back up when I got injured, but the coach instructed me to stay down until the medics arrived. I wanted to get up and finish the game. I wasn’t worried about my future,” she said. “I just wanted to get back into the game.”

Dunn’s games at TLSS are the only time she gets to play in her hometown as there is no rugby program for women in Orillia.

“Two other Orillia girls play with me in Barrie because there is no Orillia program. There used to be an Orillia team but I guess they didn’t get enough girls to come out and play,” Dunn said with disappointment.

“I think Orillia needs a rugby program and should try again. I think it would be a great opportunity for young people to be able to play at a field close to them.”

Dunn said it’s not easy being a young athlete pursuing a career in a sport that isn’t available close to home.  

“I currently have to drive to Midhurst to practise which doesn’t seem far, but I usually get there a little late by the time my family can get off work and drive me,” Dunn says.

Dunn will continue with the Barrie program for the foreseeable future. Her short-term goal is to continue to play at a high level and provide versatility and leadership to her teams; her long-term goal is to play at the post-secondary level.  

“It sounds really cheesy, but I would like to earn a scholarship to play because I can’t really afford to go to college. Not everyone can afford it,” Dunn says.

However, if the goal of a scholarship is not achieved, Dunn will keep playing with the same heart and passion that has driven her to success.

“I would like to go somewhere with rugby. If I can’t, that’s okay. But I want to keep working at it.”