Love of rugby overpowers injury concerns

South Surrey's Anna Castillo prepares for BC Summer Games a year after a devastating injury nearly ended her young rugby career.

It was a simple, textbook tackle – the kind of play that happens countless times on the rugby pitch.

It was July of last year, and Anna Castillo, in her first practice with B.C.’s provincial under-15 girls team, had run the ball down the sideline during a scrimmage at Delta’s John Oliver Park – “I was on a breakaway,” she explained – but was eventually caught by a defender, who tackled her to the ground.

As both players fell, the tackler rolled on top of Castillo, driving her upper body into the ground.

“Right away, I heard a noise, and I was about to get up, then I realized I couldn’t,” explained Castillo, a Semiahmoo Secondary student who will start Grade 11 in the fall.

“That’s when the pain came in and I was just screaming.”

The impact of the tackle had broken Castillo’s collarbone, and the break was serious enough to require surgery a day later to correct what the young rugby player described as bone “that was about to pierce through my skin.”

“It was pretty bad,” she said.

During the surgery, performed at Peace Arch Hospital, Castillo had a metal plate inserted on her left collarbone – she has a long scar to prove it – and then her surgeon delivered the news: she shouldn’t play rugby again, even after the bone healed.

Should Castillo return to the field and break her collarbone again, the metal plate could send the fracture elsewhere in her body, she was told.

“It would be super dangerous – I could literally die on the field if that happened,” Castillo said. “My mom didn’t want me to play anymore, either.”

Though she had only been playing rugby for a couple years at that point, having picked up the sport in Grade 8 – as opposed to soccer, which she’d played for years – Castillo said the suggestion that she retire from rugby prematurely was a devastating one.

“I was super disappointed – I immediately started crying,” she recalled. “Rugby is just something I really enjoy. It’s changed my life. I never thought I’d be so interested in something, and love a sport so much, when I didn’t even know what it was three years ago.”

Undaunted by her prognosis, Castillo began three months of rigorous physiotherapy and rehab.

“I just wanted to get back out there right away, and do anything I could to make it safe enough for me to get back out there,” she said.

Eventually, doctors, after seeing Castillo’s progress, told her that if she played with shoulder pads under her jersey – and another foam pad to specifically protect the collarbone – the injured area was strong enough to support a return to the rugby pitch.

In February, wearing the aforementioned padding, she suited up with Semiahmoo’s senior girls side – slowly progressing from simple passing drills and jogging in practice to, eventually, full contact games – and this weekend is in Abbotsford, where she’ll suit up for the Fraser River zone’s seven-a-side girls rugby team at BC Summer Games, which started Thursday and run until Sunday.

“I was super nervous, that first practice where I was allowed to do everything,” she said. “But then the first game came, and I was just so happy to be playing again, I put everything else (behind me) and I went out there and tried to play like I usually do.”

Excitement aside, she has had a few tense moments – instances where a tackle has triggered a jolt of pain in the collarbone area – but has to this point remained injury-free.

Eventually, in a year or two, Castillo says she will have to get the plate removed, at which time the risk of serious injury is lessened considerably. In the meantime, she will continue to exercise caution while keeping any concerns in the back of her mind.

“It’s still a bit scary, knowing I’m out there with the plate in… but so far it’s been pretty good,” she said. “My love for the sport overpowers any feeling of worry.”

Castillo will be joined on the pitch this weekend by a handful of fellow Surrey and White Rock sevens players.

Other locals on team include White Rock’s Kate Bagshaw, and Surrey residents Tanika Bonneville, Kate Richards, Shoshanah Seamanutafa, Berlyn Seselja, Nicola Smith, Madison Smith, Emma Truman and Katherine Zhang.

The team has been practising twice a week for the last month, Castillo said.

“I’m really looking forward to it, because we’ve got some girls who’ve played a really high level of rugby…I think we’ll do really well.”

Many taking part

Surrey, White Rock and Cloverdale athletes are front-and-centre at BC Summer Games this week, competing in sports from equestrian to track-and-field to baseball and basketball.

Among the hundreds of competitors are South Surrey’s Amy Cook, who – along with her horse, Dexter, and coach Rochelle Kilberg – will compete in dressage.

“I have spent much time in preparation with my horse, Dexter, and I’m thrilled to take part in the BC Summer Games and represent my zone as part of a team,” Cook said in an email to Peace Arch News.

Others taking part include track-and-field athletes Rory Denness, Aneel Gillan and Michael Miller; and volleyball player Chris Hamilton. For a complete list of athletes from this area, visit www.bcgames.org

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