Canadian rugby owes a huge thank-you to Stu Jette and Lisa McLeod for accidentally launching the rugby career of their friend Kelly McCallum, now considered one the greatest players in Canadian history.
It happened like this. Kelly grew up swimming for Surrey’s Crescent Beach Swim Club, playing soccer for Semiahmoo, and captaining the BC provincial water polo team. By age 19, she “didn’t know anything about rugby. I’d never even seen it before,” she recalled.
Her friend Stu invited her to watch his rugby game, but gave her the wrong time. Kelly showed up at the field, found women’s teams warming up, and was asked if she wanted to play by Lisa, on one of the teams that was shorthanded. All she had to do was stand on the side of the field so the team had enough players to play.
“Someone threw the ball and I literally ran to the end zone, because I thought they were going to throw the ball like football,” recalled Kelly with a laugh. “Two of the coaches came over and told me you have to pass backwards in rugby. It was comical. But then I did a tackle and I was like, ‘whoa!’ It was really empowering, really challenging. And that was it!”
Kelly had fallen in love with the game from first tackle.
The Douglas Rugby Club soon became Kelly’s home and extended family. “I wouldn’t be getting this award or have gone anywhere without my Douglas Rugby girls, my closest friends,” she said. “Played years and years with them and learned my rugby off them.” Douglas dominated club rugby in BC for several years as Kelly captained the women’s team to four straight BC championship games, winning in 2001 and 2002. At the same time, she also captained the BC provincial team. In 2002 she was the first woman named the BC Rugby Union Player of the Year.
Kelly made her national team debut in 1997, a last-minute emergency call-up on Canada’s first-ever women’s sevens team the night before the team left for the Hong Kong Sevens when a player broke an arm. Kelly ended up leading Canada in scoring in the tournament.
As a regular on the Canadian women’s 15’s national side from 2001 to 2006, she accumulated 30 international caps and scored exactly 100 points. She represented Canada in two Women’s Rugby World Cups, from the flyhalf position helping Canada to fourth-place finishes in both 2002 and 2006. In the latter tournament, she served as Canada’s captain and finished 6th in tournament scoring with 29 points.
At the same time, Kelly took great pride in proving BC rugby players were as good as anyone from the world’s best rugby nations. At various points in her career, she played with distinction for Brothers Rugby Football Club and Sydney University in Australia, and Richmond Rugby Club in Britain.
After retiring in 2006, Kelly coached Sydney University and the Japanese national sevens team.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.