Britt Benn spending Olympic hiatus as volunteer with Stone Mills Fire Department

Britt Benn has traded her rugby kit for bunker gear and is volunteering with the Stone Mills Fire Department. She still has plans to represent Canada's national rugby sevens team at the 2021 Olympics. Submitted photo.

Adam Prudhomme

Rugby sevens star Britt Benn was preparing to represent Canada at the Olympics for a second time this summer when news broke the Tokyo games would be postponed a year due to COVID-19.

As devastating as that development was, the Napanee native has found the silver lining and is pursuing her second passion, joining the Stone Mills Fire Department as a volunteer.

“It’s a good way to give back to the community that’s given so much during my journey,” said Benn. “It’s the right move right now. I don’t get to really tackle anyone, but I’m very excited.”

Always known to play with an intense fire when she steps on the pitch, a career extinguishing fires has long been her intentions when she finally hung up her spikes. The 31-year-old had planned to retire from rugby following the 2020 Olympics and pursue fire fighting full time. She’s already been laying the groundwork for her post rugby career, having taken a leave of absence from the Rugby Canada program to complete an eight-week fire fighting training course in British Columbia back in 2017. She completed the course, earning her National Fire Protection Association Level 1 and 2.

“I went from training with 26 women to training with 26 men,” Benn said of jumping from rugby to fire fighting training. “That was a bit of a change of pace but I learned a lot and to have that kind of education and knowledge within the fire service is definitely beneficial. Right now I’m just in a volunteer role (with Stone Mills) but eventually I’m hoping to get into a full time role when I’m more free with rugby. Right now I still have intentions of pursuing 2021 Olympics. I was supposed to hang up the boots in 2020 and basically at the end of this month after the Olympics that’s it, onto the next chapter in my life. Obviously life decided to throw a bit of a curveball so I’m just living at home right now and the timing was just a great opportunity to apply and better myself for a future career in the fire fighting service.”

She’s now training with the Stone Mills department, learning through Zoom meetings and shadowing veterans when answering a fire call.

She’s already had a few members of the department attempt to recruit her to the Fire Fit team. Adding an Olympian would not doubt be a boost to the team, but Benn isn’t quite done with rugby yet either.

“I just have a big smile on my face because it’s like for so long I’ve done rugby, rugby, rugby and rugby’s been my summer, spring and fall,” said Benn. “As devastating as COVID’s been, I was able to sit down and re-evaluate my priorities of life and have a good think about rugby because that’s another year away to the 2021 Olympics. I was getting pretty excited for retirement, now I’m kind of in the hot seat and have to make a decision with rugby again. I’m going to try and de-centralize which means I will train at home in Napanee (as opposed to BC) and tour when I can. That’s a discussion I have to have with my head coach and he’s fully aware of my dreams with fire fighting and he knows I want to get that career on the move because this month the Olympics would have happened and then I’d move home and then start to pursue fire fighting.”

As eager as she is to fully embrace her next career, she knows the window to play at an Olympic level won’t always be open. Team Canada is looking to build on their 2016 appearance in Rio when they captured the bronze medal in the first year rugby sevens was included in the Olympics.

“I had a rough couple of weeks when they announced the Olympics were postponed, I had plans to retire and move home to the family that I’ve been away from for the last five years and my family is my rock and they’re very close to my heart so to be away from them for another year was pretty devastating,” said Benn. “I’ve re-evaluated and I’ve spent about four months at home now and I’m kind of thinking I won’t be able to do rugby forever, can I hold on for another year for another Olympic dream, and obviously the answers yes. Ten years from now, one year isn’t going to be very marginal.”

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