Local rugby player named finalist in Olympic scouting competition

St. Albert rugby player Halle Walters (left) will head to Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2022, to compete in this season's RBC Training Ground finals, with the hope of earning a spot on the Canadian national rugby team. SUPPLIED/Photo

Halle Walters is one step closer to becoming an Olympic athlete.

The 18-year-old Bellerose Composite High School graduate and current rugby player for the University of Alberta Pandas has been named one of 100 finalists in this year's season of RBC Training Ground.

RBC Training Ground is a national scouting program that seeks "athletes between the ages of 14 and 25 that will fuel the Canadian Olympic pipeline," as described on the program's website.

The search takes place through qualifying events held throughout the country where athletes are tested on a variety of skills, such as strength, speed, endurance, and power. Top performers in qualifying events are then recruited by national sport organizations — such as Rugby Canada, in Walters's case — and move on to compete in the final competition, which will take place this year in Ottawa on Oct. 22.

Rugby Canada wasn't the first organization to contact Walters after her showing at a qualifying event in Calgary this past April, she said.

"I got recruited by Cycling Canada initially, and then in August I got recruited by Rugby Canada. I was already so excited to get recruited for cycling, but to get recruited for rugby, too, was awesome.”

Walters said competitive cycling is something she has never considered, let alone tried before, but her vertical jumping and sprinting test results caught Cycling Canada's eye.

"It doesn’t matter your past, or what sports you played," Walters said regarding her recruitment by Cycling Canada. “It’s just purely based off the tests you do."

Walters's inspiration for participating in a qualifying event, she said, was knowing that Canada's national rugby team already includes RBC Training Ground alumni, such as Chloe Daniels, Fancy Bermudez, and Krista Scurfield.

"A bunch of the rugby Canada girls are RBC Olympians, and that’s how they got there, so I thought it was a super cool way to get there," Walters said.

Walters's rugby career began just a few years ago when she started high school.

“When I got to Grade 10, the rugby coach [Jason Dabbagh] immediately recruited me," she said. "[Dabbagh] is one of the main reasons I’m playing rugby, and I think he’s why I’m where I am today.”

Today, Walters is getting her first taste of university-level rugby with the U of A Pandas while she studies kinesiology. 

"It’s been super fun so far," she said. "High school was really fun but [this] different level has been really interesting and fun to be a part of.”

In Ottawa, Walters will be facing off against the 99 other finalists to be one of 30 athletes to earn funding, a spot on the athlete's sport-respective national team, and an accelerated path to the Olympics. 

“I think for me a big part of it is representing how I got there, and who got me there," Walters said, crediting Dabbagh, her track and field coaches, and her family for supporting her athletic career.

"Being able to compete against that level of like-minded athletes and hard-working athletes and being able to come up that far is a huge accomplishment for anyone.”

Leading up to the final competition, Walters said when she's not playing, she's doing strength training, and training with track and field coaches.

“Every day I don’t have rugby I’ve been trying to go out there because [sprinting is] one of the major tests," she said.

Since RBC Training Ground's inception in 2016, 1,600 participants have been identified as potential Olympic-calibre athletes.

Thirteen program alumni have competed in two Olympic games, including Sherwood Park's Kelsey Mitchell, who won a gold medal in cycling at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

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