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Future Olympian joins list of Barrie rugby players to reach national stage

Eden Kilgour, a Grade 11 student at Eastview, will represent her country when she takes the field with the Canadian national under-18 team later this month in San Diego

Eden Kilgour admits she never really thought of the city of Barrie as a hub for national rugby athletes.

That was until she started playing the sport herself some three years ago.

While she's now familiar with the names of local athletes who have gone on to represent the country like Emma Chown, Bethany Cudmore, Kaili Lukan and Olympian Megan Lukan, Kilgour is quickly making a name for herself on the rugby pitch.

"I never thought of Barrie as an area where sports, especially rugby, were huge and important," said the Grade 11 student at Eastview Secondary School, who will represent her country when she takes the field with the Canadian national under-18 team in a December tour later this month in San Diego.  

"Having this many successful people going on to play for national teams and representing Canada, it's really motivating."

She can't wait until she gets to sport the red and white national team colours and step on the field.

"I'm excited for that, because I've never played for Canada before," added the 16-year-old. "It's such a big opportunity."

Kilgour never really imagined reaching these heights in the sport when she was first spotted by a scout watching the Forest Hill Public School Grade 8 student back then in a flag rugby tournament three years ago.

For her, she would have been thrilled just to be part of a university rugby team, but that goal got an Olympic-sized boost when Kilgour was one of only 30 athletes from across Canada, ages 14-25, to be recently named an RBC Future Olympian and receive  funding.

"After the RBC event, being recognized at that level, it's really made me think that I could potentially make it," said Kilgour Oro, who also plays with the Barrie Rugby Football Club (RFC), Aurora Barbarians RFC and Eastview. "Other players and friends that I know have been playing on the national team. Now that's my goal.

"It used to be just to make a university team. Now I'm reaching more towards potentially going for the national senior women's team."

Kilgour first found out about the RBC Training Ground event — a national search for new Olympic talent — being held in September in St. Catharines from her father. The teenager took it all from there. She was one of only 100 athletes selected to move on to the final leg of the COC's Olympic talent search in Calgary later the same month.

"I'm very proud of that," said the RBC Future Olympian, who was one of close to 2,000 athletes to participate in 30 local RBC Training Ground events this year. "It's certainly given me a lot of encouragement. I knew, and I've been told, I'm a fast player. But I just think, 'I was top 30.' So that was amazing. I wasn't expecting that."

The program allows young athletes the opportunity to test their strength, speed, power and endurance in front of officials from Olympic sports. It's designed to find and then provide newly discovered talent with the high performance sport resources needed to reach Olympic podium dreams for Canada.

National sport programs participating included athletics, canoe kayak, freestyle ski, rowing, rugby, and speed skating.

"It was kind of stressful, because the age range was 14 to 24 and I'm 16 and on the lower end of that," Kilgour admits. "Going to this meet with a bunch of people, some adults, and running your out 40-metres against the or trying to jump higher than them, it was difficult."

Kilgour wasn't the only one from her family to take part in the RBC Training Ground program. Her younger brother, Jesse, also went out. He started playing rugby last summer and ended up making the under-15 provincial team.

"In his first year, which is amazing," said his proud older sister.

The two can often be found in the backyard of their Oro-Medonte Township home working on their rugby games.

"I take him out in the backyard and teach him how to pass properly," Kilgour said. "He's also a really fast guy, so he stays outside on the field too. He's kind of like in the same position, so it's nice to talk about that with someone." 

A fast runner, she did well in power and speed in the RBC Training Ground events and when it came time for officials at the to place her in a sport, naturally it was rugby.

"Everyone who got rugby as their sport did a little session to introduce them to rugby, but I've been playing the sport for a while now so I was one of the leaders there," she added.

Kilgour, who normally lines up on the outside as winger or the outside 2 position, has worked hard to build on her strengths and fitness. She trains just about every day at the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario at the Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto. She spends Tuesdays and Thursdays working on weight training, distance training and speed, and the rest of the week on skills training such as passing, running and tackling.

"Speed has definitely been of my things, which means I'm a lot smaller," Kilgour said. "I'm not as huge as other girls, so my trainer as definitely built up my strength which I think I've improved a lot in the past year.

"For skills, being on the outside of a rugby field they encourage you, especially when you take it to higher levels, to kick a lot. So I've been focusing a lot on kicking in my training."

With school, rugby games and training it's made for a busy schedule and that means the importance of good time management. Kilgour says she's better at it, but admits she still struggles at times.

"I've learned to do homework in the car. I think I'm a master at that now," said the teen, who just returned from a rugby tournament in New York. "It's hard to balance hanging out with friends and finding time to do homework and all my training sessions.

"It's hard to find free time."

As busy as it is, she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I definitely wouldn't give up any of those three things," she said.

Kilgour won't be the only local athlete competing with the Canadian U-18 team in San Diego this month. Fellow Barrie RFC player Jessica Dean and Olivia Hooper, a Grade 12 student at Innisdale Secondary School, will also be sporting a national team jersey.

"She's the complete opposite of me," Kilgour said of Hooper, who has committed to play for the rugby program at Queen's University next year. "I stay on the outside and run fast and she stays in the middle and makes all the big hits.

"She makes my job easy."

As do her parents. The young athlete can't say enough about the support she gets at home, especially from her dad.

"My dad is my No. 1 supporter," said Kilgour, who goes on to say how her mom likes to joke that he's her manager. "He takes care of my calendar, he records my fitness results. He keeps track of the scores of my games and he drives me to everything."