At 20 years old, Vancouver-born Kelly McCallum didn't know much about rugby. Twenty-five years later, she will become the first women's rugby player inducted into Canada's British Columbia sports hall of fame.

Now a sport and recreation tutor at both NorthTec and AUT based at Whangārei Heads, McCallum's historic induction came off the back of a storied career playing at the height of Canadian women's rugby, earning 30 caps and attending two world cups in 2002 in Spain and 2006 in Canada, the latter of which she captained.

McCallum will travel to Canada for her induction in May. Despite her long tenure as a stalwart of her nation's top team, McCallum's start in rugby came at the hands of a friend's scheduling error.

"My friend asked me to watch his rugby game but he'd given me the wrong time and when I showed up, there was a women's rugby game about to start," McCallum said.

Advertisement

"I had just come from a football game and one of the girls saw me and asked whether I would like to play because they didn't have enough players and that's how it all started."

McCallum ended up on the wing with her Year 8 brother running down the touchline, telling her what to do. At one point she ran all the way to what she thought was the end zone to score, as it would be in American football.

From the wing, McCallum transitioned to play as a first-five and fullback and rose through the ranks, forgoing promising careers in water polo and football to pursue rugby. While she was proud to be inducted, McCallum believed she should not have been the first.

"There should have been a lot of women before me, but at least it's a start."

Twenty-five men's rugby players had previously been inducted in a hall of fame dominated by ice hockey players. As a growing sport in Canada, McCallum would be the first of many rugby players to be inducted in the coming years.

It was a long time coming. She had narrowly missed out on the accolade for the past few years.

"They only induct a few people a year and for the last few years, I have always been one spot away so it's nice to get over the line," she said.

As a young sportswoman, McCallum had a burgeoning future in water polo, where at age 16, she was training with Canada's national team. She also played football at a provincial level before she gave both away for rugby.

Advertisement

"I think it was my grandfather who said - when water polo got into the Olympics for the women - 'you could have been there if you hadn't chosen rugby' but then I never would have captained Canada at a world cup," she said.

While working as a teacher, McCallum would wake up at 5am to practise kicking conversions with her solitary ball in rain or shine before going to work and then going to the gym. It was this commitment that drove her to experience a higher level of rugby abroad.

"After the 2002 world cup, my coach told me if I wanted to be the best in the world I needed go to England and play with the best so I spent four years in London with the Richmond rugby club."

At the 2006 world cup at age 33, McCallum led her team through the group stages until they lost in the dying seconds of their semifinal against England who won 10-6. England would go on to lose the final to New Zealand 17-25, gifting the Black Ferns their third world title.

Now a mother of two and a social player for the Manaia Golden Oldies rugby team, McCallum said women's rugby in Northland had seen a big boost in the past few years.

"I know Australia has made a big push in women's rugby and I think some of that has flowed over to New Zealand.

"New Zealand wins everything in women's rugby and for them to keep up their success, they need a lot more resources but it's getting better."

While she humbly claimed she wasn't a naturally-skilled athlete, McCallum said her drive to train to improve her skills got her to where she is today.

"There's only a certain level that natural ability gets you to and then it's the willingness to go out and train for hours by yourself."

Similar to her rapid introduction to the game, it didn't take long for McCallum to fall in love with the game which became the reason why she still loved playing.

"Rugby has so many different people from all walks of life and everybody has that bond, a real family atmosphere, which is really special."

While also working part-time as the Whangārei police physical education officer, McCallum is now completing her master's degree in emotional intelligence and leadership at NorthTec.