By Michael Sun
Though she couldn’t match last year’s gold medal, Melanie Judges said playing at the national championships for rugby was a “super fun experience.”
Judges and fellow Ottawa-native Dria Bennett took home bronze with the Ontario Blues rugby team at the July tournament in Saskatoon. Perhaps more importantly, she said her personal development and attitude has been aided by her national championship experience.
“I’ve played a lot of high level rugby but it doesn’t compare to the Canadian rugby championships,” she added.
Judges has come a long way since picking up rugby back in Nepean Secondary School, which she only got into after being approached by the school’s rugby coach following a track and field practice. “I was not planning on playing rugby at all – ever,” she recalled.
She started off as a winger before switching to back row as she improved her strength at Queen’s University. She plays second row for the provincial team.
“When I was in high school, I was very quick and fast, kind of as a track runner; but I wasn’t very strong,” Judges said.
She said her life is consumed from the start of the rugby season, which is as early as March, until the end of the summer, since she has to balance work and practices in Toronto.
Judges was a walk on for the rugby team at Queen’s, where played studied kinesiology. In her third season with the Gaels, she broke her leg. It was a season-ending injury, and the first serious setback she’d ever suffered. She underwent two surgeries, an experience she said was, “very hard mentally.”
“You just feel like you can’t contribute to your teammates, your best friends – basically your second family,” she said. “You can’t help them on and off the field in any way. I kind of felt like I was useless because I couldn’t even get around on my own – my own teammates had to wheel me around in my wheelchair, I had to crutch around campus.”
Judges said it was hard to get over the “mental pressures” of thinking what could have been. Queen’s won OUA silver and finished 5th at nationals as she took her recovery day-to-day instead of thinking long term.
She found her motivation in strength and conditioning training, which paid off the following year as the Gaels won their first (and only) OUA title.
“I still remember vividly beating Guelph at Guelph (in the OUA title game) on the rainiest, freezing cold, paling day at the end of October. To this day that was probably the highlight of my rugby career,” Judges said.
The victory was significant because it represented the culmination of her university rugby career, she says.
“That moment: it was the best moment in my life,” she stated. “I was like: OK, hard work really does pay off, all of our efforts, all of our struggles that we’ve had over the years.”
She would finish her university career playing one semester at Carleton while finishing her MBA, before becoming a Ravens assistant coach last season.
Judges plays for the Ottawa Irish and is also the club president. She calls herself a “workhorse.” She described the balance of her play: “(It’s) intense – I really want to win, I don’t like losing – but at the same time kind of goofy.”
Judges expressed pride in many things: her playing experiences, coaching Carleton’s team to a near-playoff berth last season and representing the Irish as president.
She noted that at the end of the day, the best part of rugby is the people and friendships made.
“I will forever be grateful for the people I’ve met along the way and the teammates that I get to play beside every single day,” she said. “They’re really the ones that keep me in love with the sport and keep me playing and keep my training.”
Sirrs snags silver
Ottawa’s Meredith Sirrs played on the Ontario Blues Under-20 women’s team at the Canadian Rugby Championships. The junior Blues won a silver medal, losing to the Prairie Wolfpack 17-5 in the tournament’s final.