Canadian rugby 7s icon Jen Kish retires

Jen Kish, the heart and soul of the Canadian women’s rugby sevens team, on Monday announced her retirement after a decorated and dominant career.

The 29-year-old former captain from Edmonton was one of the driving forces behind Canada’s bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics and an intimidating force on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series since its 2012 inception.

Kish announced in December that this would be her final season, but injuries forced her hand after missing both the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, and Canada’s most recent stop on the Sevens circuit in Kitakyushu, Japan.

“I know my early retirement may come as a shock to some and that I may have let some of you down, but from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the support throughout the years,” said Kish.

“The decision to not finish the season was not an easy decision, but a necessary one to make for the future of my physical and mental well-being.”

Unmistakable on the pitch with her short, blond hair and colourful sleeve tattoos that envelop her powerful arms, Kish is also a vocal proponent for women’s sport as well as charitable initiatives like cancer research. The fearsome forward often wrote the message #RuckCancer on her taped wrists to raise further awareness and also has a personal tie to the disease — her father Steve is a cancer survivor and persevered to see his daughter compete at the Olympics.

During Kish’s captaincy, Canada also claimed gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and silver at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow. The Canadian women were a perennial top-three team on the Sevens series under her stewardship.

“To have the opportunity to put on the Canadian jersey for the past 13 years has been an absolute privilege,” said Kish, who ceded her captaincy to Ghislaine Landry last year. “To lead the team has been an honour and a dream.”

“What made putting on the jersey so special though were my teammates. To be surrounded with like-minded people who grind it out each day for each other, willing to do whatever it takes, is why I took so much pride in the jersey.”

Inspiring player leaves indelible mark

Kish’s passion and fearless play endeared her to both fans and teammates, including Andrea Burk, who first got to know her on Canada’s 15s side at the 2011 Nations Cup in Oakville, Ont.

“On the field, she just brings so much fire and so much energy,” said Burk, who’s also a commentator and analyst for CBC Sports. “She’s just so hungry on the field and I think that comes across every time she plays, which is why she’s so hard to take down, why she’s such an impact for Canada on the field.”

That abrasive style of play eventually took its toll in the form of mounting injuries, including a hip labral tear sustained last May at the Sevens Series event in Langford, B.C., and two slipped discs in her neck from the tournament in Clermont, France in 2016.

“Although these two massive injuries have not prevented me from performing, they have been physically challenging and mentally crippling for me, and I’ve reached my capacity to play through it,” said Kish. “The decision came down to risk versus reward.

“It would have been amazing to finish my last season the way I intended to, but I am still very proud of what I have accomplished in my career and I am excited to watch the next generation continue to carry on the program’s legacy.”

Regardless of how her career concluded, sevens head coach John Tait is confident of her place in Canadian rugby history.

“I consider her and a handful of others as the foundational players this programs success was built on,” Tait said of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year finalist. “Her growth into becoming one of the most consistent performers not just for our team but in the world of women’s sevens was crucial for not only our team’s success, but for the growth of rugby in Canada.

“She has helped inspire so many young girls to take up the game and be like her.”

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