After missing the 2016 season with an injury, Moritz Wittmann returned to Stingers ready to lead
One year ago, Moritz Wittmann was playing in an exhibition rugby match for the Concordia Stingers when his right knee buckled. He partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee, but the injury didn’t require surgery at the time.
“Two months later, I was sort of good to run again, and I did the same thing. [The knee] buckled, and [the ACL] completely tore,” said Wittmann, who plays as a fly half. He had surgery on his knee in February after missing the Stingers’ entire 2016 season.
Without Wittmann and several other players who also had knee injuries, the Stingers suffered with a 1-6 record during the regular season. For Wittmann, not being able to join his teammates on the field was heartbreaking.
“You watch the guys out there, and you want to be in there, and you want to play,” Wittmann said. “At times, you can’t even watch. It’s hard. Especially with rugby, it’s such a physical sport, if you’re not taking part in the pain, you feel like you’re not part of the team.”
However, head coach Craig Beemer saw a positive side to Wittmann’s injury. He said Wittmann never missed a practice, and he helped out the team however he could.
“I have seen a lot of players ‘disappear’ for the year after something as devastating as that, but in this case I saw the exact opposite,” Beemer said in an email to The Concordian. “He never let his frustrations show even though you knew, deep down, not being able to step on the field was killing him.”
After Wittmann’s surgery in February, he recovered in time for the 2017 season. But his road to recovery wasn’t a smooth ride. The biggest bump along his journey was having to give up day-to-day activities for the first two months post-surgery.
“I’m used to just walking around, being active, running and doing any kind of sport,” Wittmann said. “So when you’re in bed for two months, you feel [bad]. You feel like you have less agency over your body; you don’t have control over it.”
Step-by-step, Wittmann went through the rehabilitation process to heal and strengthen his knee. During the recovery, his goal was to play in the Stingers’ first game of the 2017 season against the McGill Redmen. He played in that game, scored two tries, and the Stingers won 38-10.
“[The game] was great. It was unreal, it was so much fun,” Wittmann said while shaking his head with a smirk only seen on people who have finally accomplished their personal goals. He was also named Male Athlete of the Week for the Stingers after that performance.
Following the victory against McGill, the Stingers haven’t stopped winning. They have a 6-0 record and are in first place in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ). Wittmann has played in all six games and is fifth on the Stingers for most tries with two. Wittmann said winning games this year is a lot of fun for the whole team, but especially for the players who returned from injuries.
“At the moment, we’re just grateful to be winning a few games,” Wittmann said. “Last year was depressing, especially for most of the guys on the sideline. We would lose by 40 points, and this year we’re just dominating teams. It’s fun.”
Wittmann is in his third year with the Stingers, and even though he has had an adventurous career with the team, he said he never expected to play rugby at Concordia. Wittmann grew up in Zurich, Switzerland, and first heard about Montreal in an in-flight magazine. After high school, Wittmann wanted a new challenge, so he thought Concordia University would be the place to go. He came to study English literature—rugby wasn’t his priority.
“I wasn’t expecting to play here. That wasn’t why I came here,” he said. “I heard they had a rugby team, and I showed up after training camp, and asked, ‘Can I play with you guys?’”
Wittmann started playing rugby at eight years old while he was living in the United Kingdom because he saw his older brother play and was jealous. Even though he has played the sport all over Europe and in Canada, he said rugby culture between countries isn’t that different.
“The culture is the same, everyone is pretty friendly,” he said. “It’s sort of a known thing around the rugby community to be friendly, opening and welcoming to people.”
In coach Beemer’s opinion, Wittmann exemplifies this friendly behaviour.
“He wins over his teammates with his incredible attitude and his ability to make everyone feel important and included,” Beemer said. “What you don’t see [behind the scenes] is him staying to support the developing players during scrimmages, cleaning up the training field post-practice and [taking on] the role of water boy just to be a part of what we are doing.”
While Wittmann continues helping out his teammates both on and off the pitch, all he wants to do is keep winning. “I think we can win [the championship]. I’m pretty confident. That’s the goal.”
Main photo by Kirubel Mehari.