There probably wasn’t a person more shocked when their name was called to go up on the stage as an award-winner at the Concordia Athletics Awards Banquet (or, “Buzzies”) last May. And she had to go up there twice.
Ali Olshefsky was just being herself in her first year at University. Playing rugby, volunteering and working hard at both her job and school. Yet, there she was claiming not only the Female rookie-of-the-year award, but also the Denise Beaudet award. The latter is an award named after a former Concordia women’s hockey player who died tragically in a car accident in 1985. The award is given to the female athlete who shows traits displayed and valued by her, namely academics, leadership, unselfishness and commitment.
“It is still a shock. The other women in the running for both awards are very accomplished athletes. Even being named rookie of the year on my team was an honour. I played with the most amazing girls who were incredibly talented,” she said.
For the soon-to-be 20-year-old Montreal native, rugby used to be a game where the motive was pretty simple.
“I just ran a lot, got the ball, jumped on people and tried not to get tackled,” she said, remembering her humble beginnings with the sport as a grade seven student at Royal West Academy in Montreal West.
From there, the game grew to be something that Olshefsky trained hard for through CEGEP and now at University with the Stingers. She was even a member of the Under-19 Quebec team and took part in the Canadian championships.
“When I was in high school, I was oblivious to all of the possibilities. All you really heard about was AAA hockey and AAA soccer, and people with goals to make those teams,” she said. “I played rugby because I liked it, and I never thought I would be able to do anything with it.”
Off the field Olshefsky is just as busy and motivated. She is the assistant volunteer coordinator for Dans la rue, an organization that helps youth homelessness, an issue that Olshefsky recalls as her first involvement with volunteer work. Her responsibilities involve training new volunteers and she also does tax returns for the kids.
“[Youth homelessness] really piqued my interest as a kid, and part of that was growing up in Montreal and seeing it. And it snowballed from there when I picked up animal rights and environmental issues,” she said.
She is the only vegan on the women’s rugby team but notes “there are quite a few vegetarians, so it isn’t that problematic.”
Other than talent there aren’t many things about Olshefsky that scream ‘rugby player’.
“I’m an awkward rugby player,” she said. “I’m involved in activism and community service, and I’m a communications student which is something that some players on the men’s rugby team bug me about,” she said with a laugh.
This summer she cut training with her club team short to take a trip to Mexico. Only it wasn’t a vacation. She is a member of Students Taking Action in Chiapas (STAC) a group at McGill University. The group went to Mexico’s southern-most point and did solidarity work with autonomous villages. They had meetings with community groups, and she saw the surroundings were intense. Some places the group went were “completely boarded up,” said Olshefsky.
She also took the time to be working on a documentary during her time in Mexico.
Her list of commitments doesn’t end there, as she is also the communications director of UberCulture, a group at Concordia.
How does she balance five practices a week, games, her job and other volunteer work, and maintain a 3.72 GPA in Communications? “I guess I have good time management skills,” she laughed. “I make a list of my commitments, and plan my time accordingly. If you care about it, you find time for it and it’s always nice to see it work out,” she said.
“I never want it to be a burden, or for it to be stressful. I want everything I do to be something I want to do. I want to have fun,” she said. “The reason I do all of this is for the pleasure of taking part in something you enjoy and putting your heart and soul into something you care about,” she continued.
Previewing the upcoming season
Coming into her second year, Olshefsky has some goals for the Concordia women’s rugby team, which has a little more motivation after an “amazing” performance by the men’s rugby team this past year when they beat McGill to win the Provincial championship.
“We have some great veterans back to play who have done such incredible things over the summer, either train with Quebec teams, National teams or with their club teams,” she said. “And we have a bunch of amazing rookies who will come in and complement the vets really well.”
“The goal we have for this season is to play as well as we can as a team,” she said, pausing. “And beat McGill.”
09/10 vs Sherbrooke
09/16 @ Laval
09/22 @ Bishop’s
09/29 vs Ottawa
10/11 vs McGill
10/15 @ McGill