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Rugby a pillar of mental health for Gee-Gees rookie

University of Ottawa rugby player Meredith Sirrs has accomplished a lot in her young life despite the adversity she’s faced on and off the field.

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Meredith Sirrs
Meredith Sirrs. Web photo.

By Michael Sun

University of Ottawa rugby player Meredith Sirrs has accomplished a lot in her young life despite the adversity she’s faced on and off the field.

The 18-year-old is a first-year player with the Gee-Gees. She competed with Ontario’s Under-18 women’s team last summer before joining the Ontario Blues U20 team this year.

During the third game of this year’s Canadian Rugby Championships she broke her arm. The Blues went on to win silver at nationals, but for Sirrs the injury was “a huge setback” at the mid-point in an “incredible” year. Her broken arm has caused her to miss the beginning of her Gee-Gees career.

Sirrs has faced obstacles before. Growing up she said she dealt with depression and anxiety to the point of plaguing panic attacks she experienced while in her early years at Colonel By Secondary School. She started playing rugby at Colonel By in Grade 9, which she said was at the height of her struggles.

“I found that rugby was that outlet for me that helped me find myself again and become the person I was meant to be,” Sirrs said. “It really helped me find my confidence again and it really gave me an outlet to let out my frustrations.”

Sirrs said her depression and anxiety came from “personal problems and past experiences that had really built up.” She said at times she wouldn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

While her rugby team supported her without knowing of her struggles, it was after someone picked up on what she was going through that she sought help. Nowadays, she says she’s feeling “a lot happier.”

“I had dealt with depression for a few years but having somebody notice that you’re hurting was the moment for me that was ‘you know. It is real. It’s not all in my head because people see it,’” Sirrs recalled.

She also credits the support her mother gave her.

“She really helped me get through the hard times and I know that some people don’t really have that kind of support,” she said.

At first, she said rugby was a “confusing sport.” She remembers scoring her first try in her second year of play in Grade 10, while playing rugby sevens.

“(It was) an amazing feeling,” she recalled. “It was so crazy. The rush I got through my body, I was like, ‘I want to be here for the rest of my life.’”

She started playing for the Ottawa Irish during the summer of that year. She’s accomplished her goals of making provincials and nationals. Last on her list of goals is playing for Team Canada.

Her broken arm is the first serious injury she’s ever suffered. At the same time, she popped her elbow out as well.

“I remember thinking I can’t feel my arm and it was really scary because rugby is what I love so much and all of a sudden, I’m not going to be able to play (it) for a while,” Sirrs said.

“Rugby gives you so much more than the sport you play,” she continued. “It gives you a life and a family and a community that you’d never give up, so through all the hard times I was facing in high school, I always turned towards rugby and the rugby community to get through it.”

Sirrs said her experiences have allowed her to discover herself as a person and be more resilient.

“Having the struggle of depression when I was younger has really helped me realize that (although) today’s a really bad day, tomorrow’s a good day,” she said. “It’s what you make it and things will always get better.”

Around Town

At the time of publication, the defending national champion Gee-Gees women’s rugby team are undefeated and in 1st place in the RSEQ. The Carleton Ravens women’s rugby team is in 3rd place in the conference.

Carleton’s men’s rugby team is in 1st place of Scholar’s Rugby. The Gee-Gees are in last place in the league.

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