Abbotsford’s Mariam Ibrahim went from the stage to the pitch – and after signing with the University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby program last week – her goal of competing in the sport on the national stage moved closer to reality.
But tries, tackles and scrums weren’t always on the schedule for the Grade 12 W.J. Mouat student. For 10 years she did ballet, jazz and lyrical dance, as well as play the violin.
Despite her skill in those pastimes, Ibrahim said the spark wasn’t there.
“It wasn’t my passion and it ended up feeling like a job rather than something I’m excited to do,” she said. “Once I found rugby I quit dance and violin and I put all my effort into that because I found something I actually loved.”
So quickly after hitting the pitch, the dance outfits and the violin were put away.
She was encouraged to try out rugby in Grade 7 when she was a student at Chief Dan George Middle School after collecting too many fouls in basketball for her aggressive play. She found she fit into the sport instantly with her size and strength.
“I noticed I had talents at it and got MVP in Grade 7,” she said. “So I just fell in love with it right away and it became my outlet and made me super happy. It gave me a sense of motivation and made me want to continue.”
Ibrahim said it wasn’t just her early success that made her enjoy rugby, it was the community aspect of the game. She joined up with the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club and went on to play high school and provincially.
“One of the main things I love so much about rugby is that it’s so inclusive,” she said. “Anyone can play and there’s no set body type. And I’m a super competitive person so I love how competitive it gets, especially at the higher levels. But honestly it’s about the rugby community, it’s such an amazing thing.”
Like so many other sports, rugby has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and Ibrahim said it was challenging trying to get the attention of schools with no game action for most of 2020. But she said UVic was always high on her list of schools to seek out. She said she watched varsity rugby teams play whenever she could and the Vikes team has had a ton of success.
“They were so friendly and they just always seemed to be happy with their team,” she said. “They seem to have such a close bond.”
Winning can help strengthen bonds, and the Vikes captured the Canada West title for the third straight season earlier this year. The nationals were unable to occur due to the pandemic, but the school did win national crowns in 2017 and 2019.
There is also a big Abbotsford contingent on the team. The 2020 team had four Abbotsford talents on the team and Ibrahim will join local players Tayler Bailey, Robyn Ellis, Kira Peary and Shalaya Valenzuela on the Vikes.
Ibrahim said she will be slotted in as a lock for the Vikes and will be trying her best to earn a starting spot for 2021.
She added that she owes a lot of credit to her development in the sport to her middle school coach Chris Assmus and BC Rugby coach Darcy Patterson.
“They both helped me develop my skills on higher levels and in a more competitive way,” she said.
She also thanked her mother, who despite having four children and being a single mom, managed to attend every rugby game growing up.
“My mom and dad were both super supportive and I never had to worry about paying for any of my rugby stuff or drive me to games,” she said.
Ibrahim begins studying at UVic in the fall and her ultimate goal is to represent Canada in rugby on the world stage.