Twice a week at the Jim Pattullo field, Steven Drozd and other members of the Prince Rupert Seamen rugby club meet to build their fitness and sharpen their skills.
The drills are designed to be intense, to improve cardio and to prepare players for the physical beating they will take on the field.
In one drill, the group splits into teams of two and while one partner completes a set of sprints, the other must hold a plank. After completing four rounds of the drill, the players are exhausted.
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Drozd, dripping with sweat on his hands and knees, loves the pain and the grind of the game.
“It’s always been very intense,” he said. “I’ve been in contact sports for most of my life, and I love the fact that I can always improve my skills in general.”
Born and raised in Prince Rupert, Drozd was introduced to rugby in Grade 10 when some friends invited him to practice at Charles Hays Secondary School.
Under the guidance of head coach James Witzke, Drozd learned the basics of positioning and tackling. Drozd, who has competed in wrestling, said figuring out how to bring down a fellow competitor was what he found appealing about the game.
“Wrestling was a contact sport, but you were matched up against people your own size,” he said. “In rugby, it doesn’t matter what size you are, you have to figure out how to tackle someone whether they are bigger or smaller.”
Learning how to bring down a bigger player was something Drozd learned quickly as he was invited to play with the Seamen rugby club when he was still only 15 years old.
“I didn’t really think about it too much,” he said. “With all the adrenaline going through you, you just kind of push though it.
“They don’t let up on you even though you’re younger.”
Drozd continued to play on both the high school and men’s teams until he graduated and moved to study geography and play for the Prince George Gnats. But Drozd later transferred to study on Vancouver Island after deciding to change his focus of study to physical education.
“I was more passionate about being active than looking at maps, I guess,” he said.
Drozd transferred to Vancouver Island University where, in addition to completing his studies, he played for the VIU Mariners and the Nanaimo Hornets.
The Hornets were a particularly competitive team who played in the province’s Division 1 and Premiership leagues. At this level, Drozd was playing against national level talent, players who represent Canada at international competitions.
Drozd said his formative years in Prince Rupert prepared him for the Premiership-level play.
“If I didn’t get a chance to play with the men’s team, I wouldn’t have had a chance to take it as far as I did playing down south,” he said. “There’s no time for breaks when you’re at a level like that, you have to think on your feet.”
Going up against players who were bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled gave Drozd an opportunity to improve his own skills. He said one of the highlights of his time was making a 22-yard run to score his first try against West Shore while competing in the Premiership.
“It was a pretty memorable time,” he said. “It’s what I lived for and what I strive for.”
Drozd has since returned to Prince Rupert, but said he plans to return south to compete again. He currently helps to coach the high school team. He passes on the lessons he first learned while he was a student, and the skills he’s picked up after playing against the country’s best.
Seeing the sport grow in Prince Rupert is something Drozd said is important to him, as it helped him to develop. He was able to mature as a result of playing.
“Rugby for me is a life commitment,” he said. “I don’t see myself ever stopping. Even when I’m old and frail I’ll still be getting involved and watching games.”