- Written by Carly McKinley Carly McKinley
- Published: 31 January 2017 31 January 2017
Maria Samson began playing rugby in grade seven to simply have fun with her friends. But after realizing her natural abilities and completing years of training, Samson became a professional rugby player. She battled injuries and personal tragedy to become a Rugby World Cup finalist and a recipient of Canada’s Player of the Year award. Now she is trying to give back to the game that has given her so much.
Samson, 33, started team sports as one of only two girls on the Grade 7 boys’ football team. She began playing rugby the following year as a spring sport to stay active between football seasons.
“I wasn’t trying to make a statement or burn my bra, it was just sports,” explained Samson.
Being naturally athletic, the Montreal native soon found success in rugby and continued to play throughout high school and into her days at McGill University. It was during this time that Samson was recruited for the Under 19’s team in Quebec, giving her the opportunity to play against all the other provinces in Canada.
After university, Samson relocated to Calgary, where she continued to play club rugby at an amateur level until 2008. Shortly after moving, she qualified for the Alberta provincial team. However, Samson didn’t get as much field time as she had hoped.
“I got super pumped because I had the chance to play in front of all my friends, and then I ended up not even putting on a jersey,” Samson said. “I was the camera girl for the entire time.”
This disappointment only made Samson more determined to strive for success on the team, and after additional training and field time, she started every game for the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Samson continued to thrive, and was selected for Canada’s national team in August 2011, starting in all four games for her home country. Her efforts were recognised and Samson received the award for Women’s Rugby Player of the Year in 2012.
However, this success did not come without mental and physical struggles. Samson’s 6’ frame was repeatedly battered by the full contact sport, resulting in 11 surgeries for injuries incurred on the field.
One injury that posed a serious potential threat to her career was the tearing of her ACL, one of the knee ligaments connecting the femur to the tibia, four months before the 2015 Women's Rugby Super Series.
In order to make the team, Samson had to complete intense fitness tests at training camp.
“I honestly didn’t know if I’d make it because no one comes back from ACL surgery in four months, but I was determined and told myself that I was coming back,” said Samson.
A short while later, Samson received her acceptance email to be part of the Canadian team in the Women's Rugby Super Series. However this news was overshadowed by the death of her father who sadly passed away two days later.
“I got the email that I had made the team, two days later my dad passed away, two days later the selection went public, two days later my dad’s death went public. It was a rollercoaster of emotion.”
Samson went on to play in the Super Series in honour of her father. They played hard against New Zealand, England and United States, but unfortunately finished in last place.
“Growing up I never had an aspiration to represent Canada," Samson said. "Some athletes, especially Olympians, say they always had the dream to go to the Olympics, but I never had that. I had the aspiration to have fun with my friends and do well but it was never to go for gold and play for Canada.”
Now retired, Samson wants to give back to the sport she believes has shaped her as a person, gave her “every good quality she has” and allowed her to travel all over the world doing what she loves.
Samson’s husband, Mozac Samson, an avid rugby player, supports all of her advocacy endeavors.
“I think giving back to the rugby community is very big, especially because of what the sport has given us, both as athletes and as people,” said Mozac. “The community has helped us, so now it’s Maria’s turn to give back and help the community.”
Now Samson devotes her time to the Fast and Female organization, which aims to inspire and motivate young female athletes. Samson contributes by talking at schools and local events, as well as coaching any local teams whenever possible, which is something that she hopes to continue in the future.
“One of the reasons I gave back was because I don’t think I’d ever met a national rugby team player until I was 18,” Samson said. “Nowadays I hear 10 year olds say they want to go to the Olympics, and I want to encourage them to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
“The reason people give back to the sport is because they love it, not because they’re looking for reward.”