Pandemic to Podium: Return to Sport at CSIO (Part 1: Reese Morgan & Kris Robertson)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
young athlete, adult strength & conditioning staff, sheild logo with title and CSIO medallion logo

Canadian Sport Institute Ontario believes in the power of sport, and its’ globally unifying principles. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been forced to adapt to a new normal and come together to support one-another in a variety of ways. This 4-part article series, written by award-winning sport journalist David Grossman, was designed to highlight and showcase our resilient athletes, and the practitioners who were instrumental in their return to sport.

 

“People have things a lot worse than me right now and I have to care about my well-being while also trying to stay focussed on training.”

- Reese Morgan   

 

By David Grossman

She’s never more at home than with a rugby ball.

Meet Reese Morgan, a bright and intellectual 17-year old with dreams, abilities and a driving determination to be a success story. An academic whiz, she’s an athlete, too. Let’s just say, a talented rugby player with a combination of physical power and a positive mental attitude.

Morgan may have got the rugby bug from her grandfather and father, who both played the sport. Or the love of the game could have been triggered even more so, during the formative years, from playing on her high school team at Northern Secondary. In grade 11, she was a key member of the Toronto District School Board’s city championship team.

There is also plenty of community rugby that included teams like the Toronto Amazons and the Aurora Barberians. It was a matter of time until she would be recognized by those who know the game quite well. And it happened. Morgan was selected to be a member of Ontario’s under-16 team.

Photo courtesy of: Reese Morgan

For the Chicago-born youngster who, at the age of three, came to Canada with her family, there was, and still is, more to come.

Not one to give up, the hard work paid off with an eventual invitation to the Rugby Canada Development Academy in the summer of 2019. Still young, and with lots to learn, Morgan was inching closer to her ultimate goal. That would be to earn a spot on Canada’s National squad.

One thing became increasingly clear, her thirst for excellence in rugby and academics continued to be inextricably linked. You also won’t find Morgan to be dubious.

Loaded with enthusiasm, her pathway to triumph stopped in the early part of 2019. It was affected by a virus that would become a pandemic affecting people worldwide in many ways. For Morgan, it was like running with a rugby ball into a brick wall.

Reese performing a Rugby kick. Photo courtesy of: Sandro Fiorino

“Everything just seemed to come to a stop, and it was hard to focus and find motivation,” she recalled. “There was lots of anxiety and stress, I was mentally drained and worried about what was going on – and knew it wasn’t just me. I didn’t know what to believe, wondered if (the pandemic) was ever going to go away.”

Rugby was big, but the priority was staying healthy while also thinking about keeping in good physical shape. Focussing on sport development during a virus could have meant delaying things – or even hanging up the competitive jersey for others. Morgan would have none of that.

“A combination of people, friends and family have helped me immensely during this tough time,” she said. “People have things a lot worse than me right now and I have to care about my well-being while also trying to stay focussed on training.”

That training, at one time, amounted to tossing a rugby ball back and forth with her father in the backyard. Then, it graduated to three or four workouts a week at the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) gym – about an hour from home. To get there, involves a rugby carpool with friends.

“I’m feeling better now, more productive, motivated and in good physical shape,” said Morgan. “I am conscious of things, careful and trying to be optimistic. It’s real hard. I understand that there is no need getting depressed about things that I have no control over.”

To know Morgan’s obsession with the sport and good health, is also to understand her personal firepower in making adjustments to get by any obstacle - and regain her place on the road to progression.

Morgan has a real connection to her coaches and advisors. One of those she speaks highly of, Kris Robertson, knows all about willpower and physical development.

A former professional in the Canadian Football League, Robertson is now Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Rugby Canada and responsible for similar functions and development at the CSIO. His experience and certifications have been huge in helping Morgan out of a dull and unproductive period of months and uncertainty.

“Her commitment and dedication to serious amounts of hard work is one of the best that I’ve ever seen in an athlete,” said Robertson. “She has a strong will and lots of perseverance. Match that up with discipline and being goal oriented. I am very impressed and we are here (at CSIO) to help individuals like her who are relentless at the opportunities.”

While people won’t find Morgan seeking acclamation, she knows that comes with her manner of performance on the rugby field. While rugby has given Morgan identity, the difficult challenge is maintaining personal development during the current pestilence.

“One minute, she’s connected to everyone and then it shut down,” said Robertson. “While that can be a serious factor for athletes, she’s improved a great deal in speed, fitness and habits. I really don’t know if I could do what she has done.

“I look at what she has accomplished and I’m proud,” he said. “I got into this (career) to help because I know what strength has done for me. While we are dealing with (coronavirus), she’s aware, but also very tuned in and looking for ways to expand some extraordinary talent.”

Reese executing a back-squat with supervision by S&C Coach, Kris Robertson. Photo courtesy of: Kris Robertson, CSIO

While some young athletes can be stubborn, Morgan has been inspiring with relentless inquisitiveness. Someone who knows her sport talent is Sandro Fiorino.

“I met her when she was 12 or 13 years old and I can tell you she’s on the right path, building towards the ultimatum and one of the top female rugby players in the province,” said Fiorino, Head Coach of Canada’s National Senior Women 15’s team and Program Lead for the Canada Sevens Academy. “The simple fact is that she has put in lots of work and she was a standout for Canada’s under-18 squad. She’s on the right path.”

Morgan, although excited about wearing the red and white of her country, knows things don’t happen overnight.

Rugby toss. Photo courtesy of: Sandro Fiorino

“I really do hope to be on the National team one day, that would be exciting, but I’m far away from that now.

While Morgan’s family may have plenty of photo albums, and there has been cause for ecstatic celebration, there’s still much more to accomplish before conquering the mountain as a member of Canada’s senior squad that can deal with challenges in world competition.

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David Grossman is a veteran award-winning Journalist, Broadcaster with some of   Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.

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