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For the love of the game

Williams Lake’s Kayla Moleschi shares her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Fiji’s Raijieli Daveua, top, lunges to tackle Canada’s Kayla Moleschi as she scores a try in their women’s rugby sevens match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Zero regrets, and proud.

That’s how Williams Lake’s Kayla Moleschi feels about carrying out her Olympic dream, and having the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world while representing her country.

An Olympic bronze medalist in Brazil in 2016, Moleschi, 30, returned to play for Canada at this past summer’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The team, however, didn’t find the same success on the pitch, finishing ninth.

A new coaching staff and new personnel, all attributed to off-field turmoil with the team, along with the global COVID-19 pandemic, played a role, but Moleschi said she wouldn’t change a thing.

Several months before the Olympics, 37 players within Rugby Canada came forward with complaints of bullying and harassment of players by head coach John Tait. That led to an investigation launched by Rugby Canada into Tait’s conduct, however, results found while the complaint reflected the experiences of the athletes, it did not fall within Rugby Canada’s policy’s definition of harassment or bullying. Tait, though, resigned following the complaints.

“There were a lot of different obstacles we had to face to where we ended up at the Olympics, and not one of us would change a thing about how we came forward, spoke our truth about what we think is right, which is a safe environment and we were willing to put our Olympic dream at risk to do it,” Moleschi said.

“Obviously, I was disappointed wit the result. I don’t compete for ninth place, but at the end of the day I was proud of what this team was able to accomplish and what we stood for.”

Following Canada’s run at the Olympics, another Rugby Canada coach, Jamie Cudmore, was also let go after belittling the women’s sevens team in a series of tweets that were subsequently deleted. He was a former Canadian star play who ran Rugby Canada’s national development academy and was an assistant coach with the men’s 15s team.

Moleschi, meanwhile, helped champion a cause to create a culture within women’s rugby and sport, in general, where people can be themselves, not afraid to make mistakes, and to help others feel comfortable in unlearning and relearning what it takes to be a good ally with several communities.

At a press conference in July prior to the Olympics, the team arrived wearing black T-shirts that read “BIPOC Lives Matter” as part of its collective launch campaign.

Moleschi said supporting the BIPOC community, an abbreviation for Black, Indigenous and other people of colour, was all part of the team’s goal of promoting inclusivity in sport.

“We were not making this change just for us,” she said. “The next generation, we want an environment where down the road we can put our own children in these program where you can be a person before an athlete.

“We did other things, too, at the Olympics like took a knee before each game, we wore orange tape for the Indigenous residential school discoveries, we wore rainbow shoelaces for the LGBTQ community to show our support.”

Moleschi first joined the Rugby Canada Women’s Sevens national program in 2011 after honing her craft under the tutelage of high school rugby coaches in Williams Lake at Columneetza Secondary School, Mauro Calabrese and Todd Pritchard, prior to playing with the Canadian U19 program and attending the University of Lethbridge as a member of the Pronghorns.

She’s since competed in two Olympic Games, has amassed two gold medals at the Pan American Games in 2015 and 2019, and also won a silver medal at the 2013 Rugby World Cup, along with a 2018 world cup appearance, and again at the Commonwealth Games.

Her 10 years of international experience have positioned her as the most capped women’s player in the country’s history, with 219 caps. Moleschi was also player of the year for Canada in 2016 after its bronze-medal-winning Olympic run.

“I’m so grateful for the support system I have in Williams Lake,” Moleschi said. “It’s my hometown, and to come back here and have people come up and tell me how proud they are of me, and that I was amazing, I don’t think people realize how much that means, so thank you to everyone from the bottom of my heart. I wouldn’t be where I am without that support.”

Moleschi’s mom, Andrea, and dad, Ron, have been her biggest supporters back home in Williams Lake, cheering her on every step of the way, shouting at the TV in the middle of the night while they watched their daughter compete internationally.

She’s even not ruling out a return to Canada for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France, however, will be taking a step back from rugby to attend a two-year massage therapy course at Coast College in Victoria this fall.

“No regrets,” she said. “I’m really happy with how things unfolded. Things didn’t go our way at the Olympics this year but we were able to overcome that, and I consider these girls my closest friends, my family.

“It’s hard to say I’m stepping away because it is such a big part of me, but it’s not who I am totally, and I’m excited to step into a new chapter. I’m not ready to write off a third Olympics just yet, though, and just excited to challenge myself in a different way.”

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Williams Lake’s Kayla Moleschi (front, second from right) and Canada’s Women’s Sevens Rugby Team, are 1-1 after two games at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in Japan, beating Brazil, then falling to Fiji in their second game. (Kevin Light photo - Rugby Canada)