Winning was worth every drop of blood I shed

Winning was worth every drop of blood I shed

'All I ever needed was that one per cent to get me through the other 99'

By Jen Kish for CBC Sports
April 30, 2018

I get to travel the world with my friends and spend most of my days playing rugby in the sun.

Rugby icon Jen Kish led Canada to a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. (Submitted by Kevin Light Photography) Rugby icon Jen Kish led Canada to a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. (Submitted by Kevin Light Photography)

I play in massive stadiums, filled with thousands of rugby supporters, who are just as passionate about the game as I am. I sign autographs for fans and meet a lot of pretty cool people along the way who leave me feeling inspired.

I share my entire journey with the world on my social media platforms, which inspires others wanting to do what I am doing one day.

Sounds glamorous right? That part is. But the hard truth is, only one per cent of what I do is glamorous. The other 99 per cent is filled with repeated failures, pressures and fears that get hidden away from the outside world. The hard truth, one too many mistakes in my profession and I may find myself searching for a new job.


Throughout my career, there have been more lows than highs. The lows that I am referring to are not the failures that happen in front of everyone, on the world stage. I’m talking about  the stress and pressure that comes with repeated failures that happen every day. Failures that made me want to quit at times.


'Pain I felt'

The one per cent made everything worth it. The pain I felt, the tears I shed, adversity I faced and all the blood I lost along the way. Every single day, for years, I put my mind and body under an immense amount of stress for a spot on the Canadian women’s rugby sevens roster.

Kish endured moments of pain and anguish in her career. (Submitted by Kevin Light Photography) Kish endured moments of pain and anguish in her career. (Submitted by Kevin Light Photography)

I failed several times a day just to improve a little. A little! I had to make sure that I made the majority of my mistakes in training, because I knew that if I failed too many times on the world stage, I might very well miss out on the next series stop.

My hard truth, I really didn’t have much control over the future of my rugby career. It was in the hands of the coach, and I found that to be the scariest part about my journey in the red and white jersey. I could show up, give everything I have and there would still always be the chance that I might not make the roster.

I know people find it hard to believe, because I was the captain of the team for so many years, a starter, and I only missed tours due to injury, but I never felt safe. It didn’t matter how many previous tours I made, or pinnacle events I attended.

How could I dare to feel safe when I was training and competing with the best rugby players in Canada? Honestly, it never sat well with me when people would express the thought of me being a “shoe in.”


I never wanted anything handed to me because of my previous achievements. I wanted to make sure I earned everything I got. That has always been important to me because that’s where my confidence and belief came from.


'Lowest moments'

One of my lowest moments in rugby came after the Rio Games, when I decided to train away from the team. It had never been done before, and I knew it would present challenges that I had never faced in my career. It was new territory for me, and for everyone in the program. It was a challenge that I wanted to take on, but at the same time, I was super scared because I had no idea how it was going to turn out.

Training away from the Canadian team wasn't an easy decision for Kish. (Submitted by Rugby Canada) Training away from the Canadian team wasn't an easy decision for Kish. (Submitted by Rugby Canada)

My hard truth: for the first time in my career, I felt like a stranger on the team. I was on the outside looking in. It was a reality that was bound to happen because I was not in the environment everyday, but that was a tough reality to accept. Sometimes I would even find myself crying over it because I felt like I was missing out, and it was all my own doing. I knew I didn’t have the right to be upset, because I made the choice to move back home, but I couldn’t help but feel the way I did.

The program was continually growing and changing and I felt like I was being left behind. I went from feeling confident to   doubting my abilities. I didn’t really know if I was going to be good enough to earn a spot on the roster since I moved back home. I felt like I had just made the biggest mistake of my career.


One of the biggest stressors in this low moment was flying into Victoria to train with the team, a week or two before selections were announced. I had a very narrow window to brush off my rust, reconnect with the team and make minimal mistakes, while having to outperform those who had been practising consistently. My biggest fear was that my next flight out of Victoria would be back to Edmonton and I would leave feeling like a failure.

I remember the very first week I came into camp. I was staying with a good friend who used to play for us. She asked me every day how training went, and I just complained to her about how many mistakes I made that day and how sore I was. I had the expectation that I would have so much fun, but it was very much the opposite. It was super tough. I told my friend that I felt like going home, because I didn’t know if I could handle the stress anymore.

She said, “Kish, you’re not a quitter, so even though you say you want to, I know you won’t.” She was right. I was not a quitter. I was having bad moments, but I knew that it would take me a few days to get into the groove of things. The kicker though, was even after I got into my game, I still made mistakes, and my mental battles were making things even more challenging. My internal dialog was unhealthy. I told myself things like, “KISH, you suck. Just go home. “KISH, you’re not as good as you use to be, just stop trying.” My mind tried to convince me of a false truth, and I am grateful for the people around me who reminded me of the actual truth.


The hard truth is that being apart of an Olympic program isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. There are many days of darkness. But in those days of darkness, all I ever needed was  that one per cent to get me through the other 99 per cent.

(Top large photo by Karim Sahib/Getty Images; Middle large photo by Kevin Light Photography) 

10 quick answers from Jen Kish

Q: The best book you've ever read? 
A: The book of AWESOME by Neil Pasricha.

Q: Must-listen Podcast? 
A: TED Talks Daily.

Q: Best advice you ever received? 
A: Find your WHY.

Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called? 
A: Never a dull moment.

Q: What word or phrase do you overuse? 
A: Absolutely!

Q: What is a skill you wish you had? 
A: I wish I was a better cook.

Q: What's something no one would guess about you? 
A: I cry on planes.

Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the six people you'd invite? 
A: Muhammad Ali, Ellen DeGeneres, DJ Forbes, Mandy Marchak, Vince Lombardi & Mahatma Gandhi. 

Q: What makes you cry, every time? 
A: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish? 
A: Own a fitness centre that has my name on it.

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