Ashley Steacy sat down gingerly, like she’d been a bar fight the night before.
Sporting a wicked black eye, a few stitches in her lip, the five-foot-two Canadian rugby sevens star was fresh off the plane from Japan.
The 29-year-old arrived back in Canada Monday night, after a heartbreaking finals’ loss in a Sevens Series event and made the trip to Red Deer Tuesday to speak to a group of high school students at RDC.
Steacy addressed the 40 or so teenagers as part of the Alberta Sport Development Centre-Central Winning Edge Seminar Speaker Series.
Her latest bumps and bruises, from a ruck in a game against Russia, were just minor compared to the half dozen or so injuries she’s suffered over her almost 15 years of competitive rugby.
Adversity has followed Steacy like a bad cold, with a fractured hand in 2010 and 2013; a 2014 shoulder surgery that kept her out six months, before an MCL injury to her left knee followed almost immediately by a ACL tear on her right. Six months before the Rio Olympics, she thought her career was over.
After an MRI and her coaches setting her up with a surgeon, the emotions completely reversed course.
While she was ready to play without an ACL, Steacy instead had a synthetic ACL surgery that allowed her to recover in only four months. After playing in a test series in the U.S. that year, she was given the nod by her coach.
“Just having gone through that much adversity, I started crying. It was such an exciting moment for me,” she recalled about being told she’d made the national team roster for the 2016 Olympics.
That all gave way to the message she hoped to pass along Tuesday, which was largely about belief, overcoming obstacles and seeing the good through the bad.
“I know it sounds cliché but don’t let anybody tell you can’t do something,” she said.
“I’m not the typical or ideal rugby player. I’m short and I’m not a big girl but that never stopped me from chasing after what I wanted.”
Among the pain, there has been plenty of triumph, too.
She was Rugby Canada’s Women’s Sevens Player of the Year for 2014, won gold at the Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015 along with her bronze in Rio.
At the University of Lethbridge in 2004, she joined a strong recruiting class of eight girls, all of them played five years in the program, winning four Canada West titles, and three national championships.
She was championship MVP in 2008. That Pronghorns group was elected into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
Battling through injury was certainly never the dream for the undersized, fiery Lethbridge native, who fell upon the sport of rugby, almost on a dare, but more like a blind date.
At age 15, her best friend Dani dragged her by the arm to the pitch for a practice.
She scored four tries in her first game. She was hooked.
“I had no interest in playing this weird, crazy sport that no one played,” she recalled. “practice was awesome, the coaches were so much fun and I decided to play. Scored four tries in my first game and fell in love.”
She couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment where the sport became life for her, but when her high school team took in a national team match in Calgary, the dream to play at that level was born.
“Just seeing the top level of the sport, what those women were capable of, sparked an interest in me wanting to play for our country. It was a cool moment for me,” she said.
She played in the provincial stream as a teenager and worked her way to the under 19 program before playing for the Pronghorns. Along the way she was recruited for the senior national team.
In 2007, Steacy played her first game with both Canada’s Women’s Sevens and Fifteens Teams and has played on some of the biggest stages in the sport since.
Well her successes came from a dream, she spoke to the kids on Tuesday about the importance of goal setting, and not just outcome based goals but process focused.
Overall, she added there’s a simple way to get what you want – don’t stop dreaming, but take action.
“Nothing is impossible,” she said.
“If you have something that you want do to, you have this dream – go after it. Actually get after it, go chase it.”