KELOWNA, BC - Our latest BC Rugby First XV Volunteer has spent much of the last four years dedicating his time to the growth of rugby in the Okanagan. UBC-O Heat's rugby coordinator Rob O'Brien has been pivotal to the growth of the game in Kelowna, organizing tournaments, tours and field allocations for the university program as well as for local club side Kelowna Crows.
In late October, O'Brien coordinated the third annual Ro Hindson Cup, a four-team university competition featuring sides from BC and Alberta. O'Brien's Heat program went on to lift the Cup, their second title in the last three years. O'Brien is also a valued member of the Central Okanagan Rugby Enthusiasts (CORE), a rugby-passionate group of individuals looking to develop rugby in their region.
In recent weeks, O'Brien has been aiding in the fundraising process for his former player Judah Campbell, who recently suffered a neck injury on the pitch while playing club rugby. Campbell's progress has been steady and the local rugby community has rallied around their injured team mate during a difficult time.
We caught up with our latest First XV Volunteer to discuss why he has spent so much of his time giving back to the game…
BC RUGBY: How long have you been involved as a volunteer with rugby? What roles do you currently have?
ROB O'BRIEN: I have been actively involved as a rugby organizer for four years now. I currently coordinate the Rugby program at UBC Okanagan and I am the Head Coach of the Heat women’s team and men’s 7’s team. I also coordinate field and facilities booking for adult rugby programs regionally for Central Okanagan Rugby Enthusiasts (CORE).
BC: Why is volunteering important to you and why have you dedicated so many hours to rugby in the Okanagan?
ROB: I have realized that rugby had a much bigger influence in developing my character than academics or other influences. My days playing university level rugby at St F.X. were especially important to me. I had witnessed the start of the women’s team at St. F.X. and was impressed by what Pat Parfrey did to develop rugby in Newfoundland. The success of these eastern programs convinced me that nationally competitive programs could be started in more remote locations with a concerted effort. I made it my objective to contribute to making the Okanagan a top rugby centre and to develop University rugby at UBC Okanagan.
BC: What is the secret to balancing so many hours of rugby with your professional life?
ROB: My understanding and patient wife, Melanie Reed, has made it possible. I spend much of my free time during Rugby season focused on the sport. Professionally, I am an academic and a business owner so I set my own hours and have flexibility that other people do not.
BC: Can you tell us a bit about your playing career?
ROB: I began playing in New Brunswick and competed on the NB U19 team twice. I went to St.FX and selected Rugby over football. I played for the NS men’s senior team, Saint John Trojans, and the Bytown Blues in Ottawa. I have also played over-40 rugby with the Vicars in Kelowna.
BC: What positions have you played and which one is your strongest?
ROB: I have played prop, second row and loose forward. Prop is by far my favorite position. As a player, I have always enjoyed contact and the physical battles in the game.
BC: Have you ever played/coached/volunteered at another rugby club other than Kelowna & UBCO Heat?
ROB: No this is my first coaching and team management role.
BC: Who is your favourite Canadian rugby player (ever)?
ROB: I would say Al Charron is my favorite player, I loved his style and toughness. He played around the same time I did.
BC: Who is your current favourite rugby player and why?
ROB: On the Canadian men’s side I really like what Phil Mack has brought to the 15’s game. For the Canadian Women, I love that former St.FX players Asya Bartley and Tyson Beukeboom are getting a shot at the National team.
BC: Do you see yourself leaving the game of rugby any time soon?
ROB: Not leaving but perhaps changing roles, as it would be nice to have time to play a bit more over-40s rugby. However, I have some objectives that I want to see happen first. The most important of these is getting a competitive women’s CIS team at UBC Okanagan.
BC: What is your greatest rugby memory either as a player or as a volunteer?
ROB: Having the Ro Hindson Cup develop from concept to reality has been very rewarding. I am also very proud of my role in developing the UBCO Heat as an independent club with both a men's and women’s team. As a player, I can still vividly remember playing for St. F.X. in the finals against Pictou County in 1987. Even though I played lots of club rugby after this, it was never as important to me and this is one reason why I am so keen on developing university rugby.
BC: Can you speak to how the Kelowna rugby community has rallied arond Judah Campbell?
ROB: I am incredibly proud of the Kelowna Crows Rugby Club for what they have done, and will continue to do, for Judah. Judah truly represents the best of us. As a player he inspired others with the intensity and integrity of his play. When he got hurt the entire Okanagan rugby community came together and so he is still inspiring people in a positive way. Both my wife and I are committed to helping Judah in any way we can.
BC: Anything else you would like to add?
ROB: I am really honoured to be recognized in this manner. I am only one of a set of committed volunteers contributing to the growth of Rugby in the Okanagan. In fact there are a number of other people that I feel have made more significant contributions, notably Barry Ebl, who has been working diligently for the Kelowna Crows for years.
The First XV Volunteer Appreciation program is an initiative designed to recognize the valuable pillars of our membership that help keep our sport afloat. Each recognized volunteer will be presented with a "thank you" item, a customized BC Rugby Umbrella. Each individual will then receive another 10 thank you BC Rugby travel mugs to show their appreciation to the top 10 volunteers that work alongside them in their club.
First XV Volunteer Recipients:
Mark Aplas (Kats RFC)
Ian Maclean (Castaway Wanderers RFC)
Steph Murphy (United Rugby Club / Fraser Valley Rugby Union/ BC U20)
Ryan McWhinney (Abbotsford RFC / Fraser Valley Rugby Union)
Tere Blake (Vancouver-Fraser Valley Referees Society)
Brad Baker (BC High School Girls Rugby Association / BC U18 / Vancouver U16)
Andy Blackburn (Bayside AA / Fraser Valley Rugby Union / Lower Mainland U17)
John Lyall (Velox RFC / Vancouver Island Rugby Union)
Don Brown (Brit Lions RFC / Delta / BC U14)
Gio Lam (Burnaby Lake Rugby Club / Vancouver East)
Colin Chappell (Comox Kickers RFC / North Vancouver Island Rugby Union)
Jen Ross (Abbotsford RFC / Fraser Valley Rugby Union / BC U16)
Don Wright (TrueBlue BC U17 / Bayside U18)