Athlete of the week: Carolyn McEwen, Team Canada rugby player

Vancouver's Carolyn McEwen says a background in elite figure skating helped her become a world-class rugby player.

From elite figure skater to world-class rugby player, Carolyn McEwen has blazed a trail

Carolyn McEwen says the physical literacy she gained as an elite figure skater helped her make the transition to international rugby. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics)

Name: Carolyn McEwen

Sports: Figure Skating, Rugby

Age: 30

Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.

Claims to fame: Starting prop for the world #2 ranked Canadian rugby team, PhD in Kinesiology, former national-level pairs figure skater

Story: Carolyn McEwen's unconventional path to the rough and tumble world of international rugby began in a most unlikely place — the elite and refined world of figure skating.

McEwen was a serious figure skater from a young age, developing into a national-level pairs competitor in her teen years.  

She didn't even touch a rugby ball until she was 23.

"I had always wanted to try rugby, but I was always figure skating in my teen years, which is when many girls pick it up," she said, speaking from Dublin, where Canada's women's rugby team takes on Ireland this weekend.  

The transition from side-by-side Salchows to powering the Canadian scrum was greased by a brief flirtation with the sport of bobsled. 

"That's when I really learned to train for strength and power ... so it was a little easier to pick up in the rugby environment."

"I wasn't a very graceful figure skater," she said, laughing. "I was probably better suited for rugby from the beginning." 

Her quick rise through rugby is proof of that theory. McEwen went from raw rookie to B.C. provincial team member in just two years. Three years after that, she cracked the national squad.

"I've had some catching up to do," she admits. "But I have amazing teammates, and I've been fortunate to be around so many experienced players and coaches."

Although her skating days are in the past, the 30-year-old remains active in the sport, working as a technical specialist and volunteer.

"I sometimes get a few chuckles over my transition between the two sports," she said. "But I'm really lucky to have support from two great sport environments and cultures."

Team Canada's tour of Ireland and England:

  • Nov. 19 vs. Ireland -  UDC Bowl, Dublin.
  • Nov. 24 vs. New Zealand - Donnybrook Stadium, Dublin.
  • Nov. 27 vs. England - Twickenham, England.