As the Gee-Gees season comes to an end, the careers of the team’s seniors do too
The University of Ottawa men’s rugby team has reached plenty of significant milestones in recent years, and for a handful of Gee-Gees, the 2021 season marks their last.
These fifth-year players have been essential in the building of the program and its transition from the Scholars League into the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ).
Now, the team is approaching the 2021 RSEQ playoffs as one of the strongest teams in the league.
Getting into the game
James Shaw, a scrum half for the Gees, is grateful that he had the opportunity to be a part of a growing program.
Following in the footsteps of his older brothers, Shaw started playing rugby at the age of 13. The Ottawa native decided to stay close to home, choosing the U of O’s psychology program.
“I knew rugby would be a part of my university experience, so I contacted the coach as soon as possible and started getting involved in my first year,” Shaw said.
Duncan Hladik’s rugby career also began with influence from his brother. Hladik saw his brother play in high school and by the time he was in high school he knew he wanted to try it.
Hladik was involved with both the rugby and football teams in high school, and when deciding which sport to pursue long-term, he landed on rugby. Then, when deciding to play in university, the U of O was the obvious choice.
“I have zero regrets,” Hladik said, “I came to [the University of] Ottawa because I wanted to stay close to home and because my brother was also on the team. It was a no-brainer to be able to have the chance to play with him.”
Like Shaw and Hladik, Wahim Hamidi also credits his brother for his start in rugby. Creating a winning culture for the U of O team was a huge appeal for him.
“I wanted to be one of the reasons why the program is so successful and promising for future student-athletes looking to play rugby in Ottawa,” Hamidi said.
From Scholars League to RSEQ
The senior’s first two seasons were spent in successful years in the Scholar’s League. The word ‘successful’ definitely should not be taken lightly here: the team won the league in back-to-back undefeated seasons.
The triumph led to the team earning varsity club status at the U of O and moving up the ranks and competing in RSEQ.
“The transition was a big step for our program. It definitely came with a lot of challenges and checked our egos,” Shaw explained.
“After two extremely successful years in the Scholar’s League, [the] guys seemed to think we would come into the league hot.”
“It takes some time to get into the mentality of high-level competition [but] we are now competing for a potential bid to nationals, so it was a learning curve,” Hladik added.
The team finished with a 2-4 record in 2018. In 2019, the Gee-Gees made it to the RSEQ playoffs and dropped the semi-final game 37-22 to McGill. In 2020, the team was unable to play because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2021 has been bright for the team. The Gees opened the season on home turf with a 65-0 win over Sherbrooke, finished the season with a 4-2 record and depending on the outcomes of games next weekend may host for the first time in program history a playoff game at Matt Anthony Field.
“I credit the coaching staff, led by coach Bones and our teammates for building a winning culture while cherishing every moment along the way,” said Hamadi.
Being a Gee-Gee
Just from watching a game, it is clear to see there is a sense of brotherhood with the team. The Gee-Gees men’s rugby team is one that has grown together through many steps in the program’s existence.
After so many years at the U of O, the upcoming graduates have plenty of highlights to reminisce on.
“My time as a Gee-Gee has been amazing,” Shaw said. “The first two seasons in the scholars league were a riot with big scoring games and great teammates. Joining the RSEQ in my third year provided a challenge… Throughout the experience I learned how to commit to priorities and maintain a positive social life.”
Shaw earned the Academic Award of Merit in 2018 and 2019, proving that he was able to balance rugby, a social life, and school while at the U of O.
Hamidi also earned Academic Award of Merit honours from 2018 through 2020.
“I’ve had the privilege of experiencing numerous lessons and memorable moments that I will carry for the rest of my life,” Hamidi said. “Two lessons that stand out the most are discipline and patience.”
“Discipline not only on the playing field, but in the classroom as well… Patience in knowing that you can’t win every rep in practice or in games. Instead, you either win or learn from your mistakes and try to be a better student-athlete from it.”
Hladik credits a lot of his personal growth to his time spent with the program.
“I [can’t] imagine a life without being a Gee-Gee,” Hladik said. “My experience here has been one that really allowed me to grow as an individual. Rugby has given me an outlet to make friends and really come into my own.”
Each player has experienced every kind of emotion together and had their own memorable moments during their time representing the Garnet and Grey.
“Perhaps my most memorable experience was being bit by a Carleton player in my second year as a Gee-Gee,” Shaw said.
“My memorable moments are every time I get to step out on the field with my friends, or should I say, my family,” said Hladik.
The end of the road
As unfortunate as it is, all good things must come to an end.
For Hamidi, Hladik, and Shaw, this season marks the end of their Gee-Gees careers.
“Knowing it’s my last [season], I’ve approached it with a greater appreciation for the little things,” Hamidi said. “I am trying to live in the moment, and really enjoy things.”
Hladik appreciates that he will be leaving the program with the same teammate he came into it with.
“This is my fifth year on the team, it seems like a natural progression for this to be my last season,” said Hladik. “I’m leaving with people I came into the program with.”
“I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to play for this team.”
The program has left its impact on the players, but it is something that does not go unreturned. Without the things that each of these Gee-Gees have brought to the table, the men’s rugby program would not be where it is today.
“This being my last season, I have tried to make the most of it,” Shaw said. “I am comfortable knowing that I am leaving the team at a much better level than it was when I started.”
“Personally, I have developed a lot as a player and a person. The team has grown into a reputable organization with fantastic potential at the national level,” Shaw continued. “I’ve been playing for every member of the team this year to ensure that the program keeps heading in the right direction.”
Knowing that it is the last season seniors will be playing for the Gee-Gees, the priority for these players is to make the most of it while they can.
“My mindset throughout the year has been to just go out there and have fun. At the end of the day, I enjoy playing rugby and want to make the most of my last season,” said Hladik.
“Rugby has been such a light for me. It, and the boys, have been there for me at my darkest moments, although they may not have known it, as well as the lightest.”
Beyond the Gee-Gees
While Hamidi, Hladik, and Shaw are ending their chapters as Gee-Gees, they are moving on to the next stage of their lives.
For Hladik, his undergrad in psychology is just the base of his education, as grad school is in the works, but only after he spends some time travelling and exploring the world.
“Looking ahead, I plan to take some time off before I go back to school. I want to experience life a bit more while I’m still young, so I plan on moving and travelling as much as I can,” Hladik explained. “I would love to see as much of the world as I can.”
Shaw is looking to pursue a degree in clinical psychology after graduating from his undergrad.
“I have been pursuing this degree since grade nine and look forward to a career as a psychologist,” Shaw said.
That’s not all for Shaw. He will be starting work as a mental performance consultant at the beginning of 2022.
“My objective is to work with athletes and performing artists on the development of mental skills and habits that will support their growth and pursuit of excellence.”
Hamidi has hopes of playing rugby at the professional level and plans on giving back to the University of Ottawa program through scholarships to help student-athletes in the future. In addition, when he graduates from his PhD, he hopes to work as a professor or for the government of Canada while opening up his own multipurpose athletic facility.
Even with such exciting things on the horizon, he knows he will miss the memories he’s made with the team.
“I’ll miss everything. I’ll miss the brotherhood bond I have with my teammates, I’ll miss being coached by the best coaches in the country, and I’ll miss our athletic trainers who help us stay healthy throughout the season,” Hamidi said.
“I’m going to miss the brotherhood that we have formed. Everyone is out there fighting for the guy next to them,” Hladik said.
“I’m going to miss going into these battles with my brothers, and seeing some of my best friends every day.”