HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
COMMONWEALTH GAMES-BOUND SERIES (Part 3 of 4):
No matter the sport, athletes methodically go through a pre-game routine, finding a quiet space to prepare their minds for the battle.
Canadian rugby 7s prop Elias Hancock devotes that special time to remembering his father, Kennedy Boyce, who died in a motorcycle accident June 1, 2017, at age 52.
It has been more than five years since the family – soulmate Cynthia and nine children – lost their motorcycle-loving father. The memory remains fresh for Hancock.
“He introduced me to sport. He got me to play football with all my brothers. He challenged us to play sports,” said Hancock, who asked at the end of the phone interview if he could speak about the importance of his father in his life.
“Unfortunately, he died. He used to ride motorcycles and he tragically passed away. I always pay my respects to him.”
It will be no different for Hancock, 23, when he plays for Canada’s men’s rugby 7s team at the Commonwealth Games, which are scheduled for July 28 to Aug. 8 in Birmingham, England.
“Before every game, I express my gratitude. He prided himself on family and I take that with me before each game. I dream about our times and all that he did for us.
“He was a real loving person and it fired me up before each game. Knowing his story gets me excited to play and to prove myself and to use his strength and courage that he taught me.”
Football was a central part of Hancock’s youth as he played in the Bel-Air Copeland Lions’ organization for his tyke, peewee and bantam years. After shifting his sport focus to rugby at age 17, he returned to football during his gap year, after graduating from Nepean High School. He played one season of midget football for the Bel-Air Norsemen.
Hancock loved the contact and tackling of being a defensive linebacker. But there came a time when health and safety became a bigger issue than making a sack or winning a game.
“It was mainly a mental shift, concussion prevention,” Hancock said. “In football, you can use a helmet as a weapon and not always as a protective mechanism.
“In rugby, you don’t have a helmet, but there’s more head protection and safety. You’re taught how to tackle to protect your head. I had headaches as a teen and, reflecting on that, they were probably concussions. When I stepped away from football, my grades were better and I could focus more.”
Hancock started playing rugby in Grade 9, when he attended St. Paul High School. He finished his interscholastic career with three competitive seasons of 7s and 15s rugby at Nepean High School.
During the summer, he played with the Bytown Blues junior and senior teams and grew to embrace the game.
“I love the team aspect and the culture around the game,” he explained. “Rugby is one of the few sports you go to war against someone and after the game go to the clubhouse and get to know them.
“You grab a beer, if you don’t drink that’s fine, to get to know your opponent. In other sports I’ve played, the other team is the enemy. But in rugby, you get to meet new people and have new experiences.”
The more the 6-4, 210-pound Hancock played, the more he was noticed by the right rugby people. Opportunities came his way. He played in a variety of Ontario and Canadian championships.
He also was selected to play in the Maple Leaf Tournament to help build the national 7s development program. Four years ago, he travelled to Chile and Uruguay for international 7s competitions.
While attending the University of Ottawa, where he earned a BSc in health science, Hancock was part of the Gee-Gees men’s rugby program, which played in the RSEQ league.
“Rugby Canada talked about me. I was on their charts, when I was in university,” he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic and injuries put his rugby 7s development on pause for two seasons. He didn’t play for about 18 months after surgery for a herniated disc in his back, which led him to question his rugby future. Last fall, he broke his collarbone during a university game against Concordia.
During his final winter semester in 2022 at the University of Ottawa, his rugby life picked up steam. He attended the Toronto Arrows Rugby Football Club Academy, which is devoted to the development of the next generation of Canadian rugby players. He drove twice a week to Montreal for training sessions.
He moved to Victoria last March to train under Canadian 7s head coach Henry Paul and with the national men’s squad in Langford, B.C.
In April, he was a late call-up to the Canadian team for an HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Singapore.
“I was with the team for a week and it was a really good experience. I didn’t play as I went at the last minute as the 13th man,” said Hancock, who watched the rebuilding Canadian team lose all five games.
Hancock has joined the national team at the right moment as 11 of the 13 players retired after the 2022 Summer Olympic Games.
“It’s a very new team and we’re learning how to play together and build for the future. For us, the Commonwealth Games will be an opportunity to build,” he said.
When Hancock learned from Rugby Canada he had been named to the Commonwealth Games team, he was beyond excited.
“I had done it,” he enthused. “It was a big milestone to be named to the big squad of 13. But I knew I was capable of it. The work I put in was not for nothing. I took pride in myself on how I was highly motivated and for being a hard worker.
“When I first joined the team, I had a lot of weaknesses. I am proud I am past those. I feel pride and excitement. I also know this is not the end of the journey, but the beginning.”
13 REGIONAL ATHLETES HEADING TO COMMONWEALTH GAMES
Here are the 13 National Capital Region and Eastern Ontario athletes representing Canada at the July 28 to Aug. 8 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England:
ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS – Jenna Lalonde (Ottawa), Ottawa Gymnastics Centre.
ATHLETICS – Josh Cassidy (Port Elgin, ON.), Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club; Lauren Gale (Ottawa), Ottawa Lions; Madeleine Kelly (Pembroke), Royal City Athletics Club.
CYCLING – Ngaire Barraclough (Edmonton), Ottawa-based Cyclery Racing Team; Ariane Bonhomme (Gatineau), Canadian women’s team; Derek Gee (Osgoode), Israel Cycling Academy.
FIELD HOCKEY – Rowan Harris (Ottawa), Canadian women’s team; Alexander Bird (Chelsea), Chelsea Phoenix Field Hockey.
RUGBY 7s – Olivia de Couvreur (Ottawa), Ottawa Irish; Pamphinette Buisa (Gatineau), Ottawa Irish/University of Victoria; Elias Hancock (Ottawa), Bytown Blues.
SWIMMING – Camille Bérubé (Gatineau), Natation Gatineau.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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