Sept. 8, 2023

Dinos women’s rugby player set to make long-awaited home debut

A pandemic and major injuries couldn’t keep Willow Beyea away from the sport she loves
Willow Beyea
Willow Beyea will make her long awaited home debut on Sept. 9 after COVID and injuries kept her off the field for three seasons. David Moll, Dinos Athletics

How would you describe stepping out onto the field to play the sport you love for the first time in three years, after a COVID-cancelled season and two seasons lost to major knee surgeries?

First-year University of Calgary Dinos rugby player Willow Beyea sums it up best.

“It’s the best feeling ever, but times 100,” she says.

It’s been a long road back to rugby for Beyea. Her first season in 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During practices leading up to the 2021 season, she tore her ACL. In 2022, after being cleared to play, she tore the same ACL again five minutes into an exhibition game against the University of Alberta.

Despite two major surgeries and two gruelling rehab processes, Beyea’s lifelong love for the game has kept her wanting to come back.

“It was important to me to keep playing rugby at a high level,” she recalls.

Both surgeries and recovery processes had Beyea in good hands, as the UCalgary Sport Medicine Centre’s Dr. Alex Rezansoff, MD, did both her knee reconstructions, and Bonnie Sutter and the Dinos athletic therapy team led her through her rehab.

Despite not being able to suit up for the Dinos, Beyea found other ways to stay connected with the sport and the community.

She volunteered with the Calgary Inferno, a wheelchair rugby team in the city. She also gave her time to the Adapted Physical Activity for Kids (APAK) program offered through UCalgary Active Living.

Beyea also founds ways to organize activities with the rugby team and other Dinos teams to stay involved with the athletics program.

“I wanted to stay involved with my teammates because they’re awesome people and I love hanging out with them,” she explains.

Inspired by the isolation she sometimes felt while doing her rehabs, Beyea also started a student-led recovering-athlete peer support group.

“The aim is to develop a community among injured athletes on the Dinos because losing that sense of community can be a big blow to somebody who is going through a tough injury,” she says.

Beyea says research has shown groups like these are helpful in getting athletes to recover mentally as well as physically from any injury.

 2023 Dinos rugby team

The 2023 Dinos rugby team is hoping to compete for a Canada West championship with a strong mix of veterans and rookies.

Chris Lindsey

Now able to make her own return to play, Beyea is excited to perform at the highest level alongside a mix of new and old teammates.

“I’m excited for this season,” she says. “I think we’ve had a lot of talent come in with the rookies we’ve recruited, and our older core players are still rock solid.”

Fans will get a chance to see the team at home on Saturday as they host the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns. For those on the fence about watching a match, Beyea has a simple sales pitch:

“Rugby is a faster-paced, more exciting version of football. In football, when you get tackled the play stops, but in rugby we just keep going and going.”

Beyea hopes to keep going and going in rugby, as she has two years left in her sociology degree and then plans to pursue a two-year after-degree in education.

With plenty of eligibility left to use up, she’s hoping to be with the team through the rest of her education.

“The goal is to get into education here at the University of Calgary and keep playing,” she says.

“I love our coaches and I love our team and I’d like to stay here if I can.”

Beyea and the Dinos women’s rugby team begin their home schedule on Sept. 9 when they host the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns at Field 7 at 2 p.m.. The game is free for everyone to attend.

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