National team athlete Natasha Smith found strength, structure and acceptance on Carleton University women’s rugby team.
She began playing rugby in Grade 12 and fell in love with the sport. But when she started university, she stopped playing to focus on her studies. Without practices, games or teammates to hold her accountable, she had difficulty managing her time, her grades suffered and ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression worsened.
During her second year at Carleton, Smith joined the rugby team. The team gave her the motivation and support she needed.
“Rugby is an inclusive sport,” says Smith. “It empowers strong women of all shapes and sizes. I want to help young athletes achieve their athletic and academic goals. I hope my story helps start a dialogue around mental illness and inspires people who are struggling to seek help.”
Smith, who has a Bachelor of Commerce with a minor in Psychology and a Management Certificate in Human Resources from the Sprott School of Business, moved to British Columbia in 2016 to train year-round with Canadian women’s 15s rugby team.
In 2015, Smith was named Carleton’s female athlete of the year and was a coach on the university’s women’s rugby team. She has also coached at Gloucester High School, where she first started playing the sport.
She credits former Carleton head coach Denis Blondin with mentoring her as an athlete and individual, and will always remember his impact on her career and his belief in her abilities – not to mention his vision for the university’s rugby program, which helped the team’s jump to varsity status in 2012.
Smith represented Carleton and Canada at the World University Championships in 2013 in Russia. In 2014, she played in the same tournament in Brazil and won gold. She first represented Canada that year, playing for Canada’s national 15s team in England in 2015 and in Utah in 2016, and represented Ontario in the Canadian Rugby Championships in 2016 and 2017.