If you were to ask Bermuda’s rugby players who Jillian Brydon is, most would recognize her as the physio for the National Team, or as a member of the BRFU, in charge of player safety. What many in Bermuda’s rugby community don’t know is that it was Jill who established women’s rugby on the island.
At 17, Jill left home and made her way to boarding school in Canada, as an avid sportswoman. “I had always been heavily involved in sports and we had a head of gym, Mr. Gulliver (Gully), from Wales, who was passionate about rugby. Needless to say, the offer of playing another sport convinced me to go out and give it a try. I enjoyed my two years playing in high school but was also involved in a bunch of other sports, so rugby was more of an opportunity than a passion at that point.”
While she seized that opportunity by the horns in high school, Jill had no intention to continue playing rugby once she started University, however, fate intervened when a floor-mate convinced Jill to accompany her to the varsity rugby trials.
“I managed to make the team and for the next four years played rugby for two hours a day, five days a week and games on Saturdays. But I have to say I’m pretty sure that’s how I made it through my undergrad to remain on the varsity team we had to maintain our GPA and our coaches had a no weekday party rule – that was definitely beneficial in the long run! But playing that much rugby day-in-day-out. you either fall in or out of love with it. I was just lucky enough to love it.”
Returning home after completing her undergraduate degree, it was Jill’s gap year that ultimately resulted in her involvement with Bermuda Rugby. “I wish I could say I can home from my undergrad with grand plans to spread my passion for rugby, but the reason I started women’s rugby was kind of selfish. I came home for a year between my undergrad and physio school to try and make some money to support my way through physio school. I knew that I wanted to play rugby when I was in the UK but realized that if I took a year off, I would struggle to get back into to it. So, I reached out to a couple clubs on the island and the Mariners team got back to me saying they were happy for me to come and train with the guys. After a couple weeks of training, word got out and after that it just kind of snowballed. More girls/women kept showing up every week and we were able to divvy up between the four clubs on the island to establish a league.”
Jill’s love for the game carried her through an extensive rugby career in multiple positions. “The thing that I love most about rugby is that there is room on the pitch for everyone. For the 12 years that I played, I managed to play in four different positions; starting in the back and transitioning to the forwards. It was never a case of you can or you can’t, but rather where do work best on the pitch? A team has such diverse need from one position to the next that there really is room for everyone.”
Sidelined by a back injury while playing in London, Jill took a step back from the game to rehab, with expectations to return to the pitch. “During my rehab time, I got married, and pregnant – and well, you can’t really play rugby while you’re pregnant! Before I realized it, I had two kids but never really felt like I had said goodbye to rugby.”
In an effort to reconnect herself with the game, Jill started volunteering as a pitch side physio on the weekends. While filling in as physio isn’t quite the same as stepping back into the role of player, Jill has risen to the challenge, “A couple of years ago Shara (the former league physio), reached out as she was hoping to step back and build her own practice, and I was happy to take over and help.
When you’re playing, you’re out there to play hard and win. When you’re on the sidelines, you’re watching every hit, every breakdown, and every player on the pitch trying to make sure everyone is as safe as possible. It’s very nerve-wracking! I have had the unfortunate experience of being on the side of the pitch for some serious injuries, but I like to think that all the Physios that help each weekend, are helping to minimize the risk of serious and/or long-term injury.” While her position as game and team physio doesn’t quite fill the void left by a rugby career cut short, it does allow Jill to continue to be involved in the rugby community and to once again be part of the team.
For Jill, looking to the future of rugby requires taking a look at the past. “I hate to say it, but more than 20 years after I started playing, I feel like rugby is still very much seen as a men’s sport – there’s rugby and then there’s women’s rugby. I would love to see that change, but the change needs to be grass roots. Boys play rugby growing up and girls tend to fall into along the way. To see a generation of girls that start in peewees, honing their skills as they grow would be amazing. Some of the bigger rugby nations are definitely on the right track, but as a small island, we need to be pushing harder for our girls. We need to lose the stigma that rugby, especially contact, is masculine and place our focus on the fact that rugby offers diverse opportunity for women of all shapes and sizes to be active and part of a team.”