The Long Road Back After missing the majority of two varsity seasons with injuries, fourth-year Pandas rugby flank Savannah Dubien aims to lead the Pandas to a 7s title this weekend at Foote Field in her final season.

By Aly Andersen, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics

Many athletes suffer injuries playing the sport they love, but for fourth-year Pandas rugby player Savannah Dubien, her injury was different.

Dubien had had just returned from a tour with the U20 national team and was looking to continue growing at a highly competitive level as she entered her second season in a Pandas uniform. However, one practice changed everything.

During training before the start of the Canada West season, Dubien felt something was not right, but continued to play through two grueling months of rugby.

Dubien had pulled her groin. An injury that typically take six weeks to heal turned into 22 months.

“I've been playing rugby for years and injury can be part of playing a contact sport. But this was the worst injury by far.”

Being a smaller player on the field, her speed and tenacity in contact made her a standout player from early on, even allowing her to earn her first Canada West All-star title just weeks after she was first injured. But playing through the pain came with its consequences

“Since I chose to continue playing with my injury, it didn’t have time to heal or recover and it progressively got worse and eventually I was at the point where I could barely walk and I had chronic groin pain,” said Dubien. “I visited doctors, physiotherapists, a massage therapist, a chiropractor, and even a Chinese medicine doctor and it seemed like nothing worked.”

Over 22 months there were many doubts about whether she would every play rugby again or any other sport that required her to run or stand for long periods of time, so Dubien turned to wheelchair basketball as an alternative.

“It was one of those tough injuries because it wasn’t an injury you could see, but it was an injury that was there. I think it was really hard for people to believe it and treat it, so it took a lot of work to actually get treated,” said Pandas head coach Matt Parrish. “For me it was really pleasing to get her back to play again because there was a time where I wasn’t sure if she would be able to come back from this and I know she would probably say the same.”

With the off-season between the university 15s season ending early November and the 7s season starting mid-January, everyone expected her to be back for the first Canada West B2ten 7’s series. However, as months pasted and Dubien’s injury was not improving, her motivation began to dwindle.

More months past and Dubien began to realize that it would be alright if she didn’t return to rugby.

“My mom and my physiotherapists, Alex Yaworski and Declan Norris, really helped me put things into perspective. They made me realize that I would be okay if I returned to rugby or not. Eventually I decided to see our Bears and Pandas sport psychologist, Klaudia Sapieja, and just being able to vent and have someone understand my situation really helped,” says Dubien. “Once I started healing, that's when the real motivation started coming in. I was getting big and strong and I knew I wanted to come back and kick butt.”

Despite missing two 7s seasons, one 15s season, and two club seasons, Dubien returned the action looking like she hadn’t missed a step.

The Edmonton, Alta. product wasted no time earning back her starting spot back, and ended the 2018 CW 15s season with three tries.

After multiple tries in the ensuing 7’s season last winter, Dubien carried her stellar play into the 15s schedule this past fall. Moving to flank, Dubien earned her second Canada West all-star nod, and was also named the teams MVP.

“Getting named Canada West All Star and Pandas MVP was all I could have asked for my last season. I had worked so hard these past couple of years and I am glad it finally paid off,” she said. “After going through what I did, and now getting both an all-star spot and team MVP is honestly incredible.”

Now Dubien and the Pandas look at a new challenge as they start their Canada West 7’s season this upcoming weekend at the Foote Field dome. With the addition of some talented first years to a large core of returning players, they are hoping that their experience, speed and agility will help them win the Canada West 7’s title for the first time in the team’s history.

Created By
Aly Andersen