Rugby providing positive returns for Sirens number eight Laura Miller

Grande Prairie Sirens number eight Laura Miller in Edmonton Rugby Union Division 2 play from July of last season. Miller has been linked with the east-end club, dating back to her introduction to the Sirens in 2004. The Sirens face Rockers Athletic Club on Saturday in Edmonton Gordon Anderson / Daily Herald Tribune

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With three games left in the Edmonton Rugby Union Division Women’s Division 1 regular season, the Grande Prairie Sirens rugby squad had a weekend off before resuming action this weekend in Edmonton.

It’s been a learning experience for the club, competing in the first division. Most times they’ve gone up against teams with more experience, some of that experience gained at the national level.

And while the club can’t control what the opposition brings in its 15s, what they can control is attitude. The season isn’t over and Captain Annie Arsenault doesn’t want to see her teammates thinking otherwise.

“Right now, I want to see numbers out,” Sirens Captain Annie Arsenault said. “I put a call in to see what the numbers will be in Edmonton for our next game, they are looking low. I want to see people out and available to play.” The club will face the Rockers Athletic Club on Saturday.

Known as ‘Miller’

The back half of this forthcoming scenario should be familiar to some members of the Grande Prairie Rugby Club fraternity, a diverse bunch of males and females united in their love for rugby.

“I moved to Calgary for paramedic school and work brought me to Grande Prairie,” Sirens number eight Laura Miller said. “One of my co-workers was playing rugby and she was sitting at the work table saying ‘I’m going to rugby practice tonight,’ and I was like ‘what’s that?’ I had no idea what rugby was. I went to the practice and I was hooked.”

It just so happened that Arsenault showed up the same day back in 2004, following her natural curiosity as well. Miller and Arsenault probably left the pitch as friends. It’s been 15 years now. That much is accurate.

“(Miller) is the definition of what rugby is about,” Arsenault said. “She’s a hard hitting and hard running player when she’s on the field. When she’s off the field, she’s warm and welcoming to anyone who is around the sport. Her door is open to anyone who is going through a hard time.”

Like most rugby players, they tend to pick up the game later in life. Miller was a swimmer in her teens, living in Perth, Ont.

“I came into (swimming) at 13-years old and within three years I was training with national (level) competitors,” Miller said. “It was not something that continued on after high school. I was ready to move on to a new sport.”

What caused her to make the leap into a contact sport like rugby came from a desire to fill a competitive void in her life after swimming ended at 19-years old. Competition is like a drug. The grip is addictive and hard to shake.

The 38-year-old was also a product of her environment.

“I was always a physical kid, playing a lot of sports and roughhousing,” Miller said. “I grew up with a brother on a farm and that was part of it.”

The sport also gave her what she was missing when she left Ontario in the early 2000’s. The number eight now calls the sport “my passion, to be honest.”

“When I got into the sport it was nice, moving to a new city, meeting new people,” Miller said. “I moved away from my family and (rugby) instantly became my family.”

Miller has been linked to the east end club for 15 years but she’s only played for a decade.

For two years the club didn’t have enough players to field a team, two years she was living in Edmonton for schooling purposes and one year Miller went to New Zealand with Arsenault.

The years have flown by for the local paramedic who now calls Grande Prairie her home. She was given the difficult task of describing what the sport means to her.

“(Rugby) has given me a family, away from my family,” Miller said. “It gave me a passion and a direction. Even as an adult, you’re still looking for that in life. It gave me somewhere to focus my time and energy.”

Something worthwhile

Grande Prairie Sirens number eight Laura Miller wasn’t solely responsible for the creation of the Peace Country high school girls rugby league but she was one of the people involved from the start.

“We started the high school league for the girls about six or seven years ago,” Miller said. “There was a group of us girls from the Sirens (who) knew the importance of getting high school girls involved in rugby.”

Currently, the Peace Country league has six schools participating. When the league made it debut there were deft off-field moves involved.

“We stared with Peace Wapiti Academy, St Joe’s, (Grande Prairie) Composite and Sexsmith,” Miller said. “Some of the schools had enough players for a full team of 15 and some schools had just seven players. We mixed and matched teams, we ran rugby 7s games, 10s games and 15s games, just to accommodate everybody. At one point, we amalgamated two schools to play together.”

And now the league has evolved and become a workable enterprise with Charles Spencer and North Peace Secondary now involved. St. John Paul II will join shortly as well.

“We’re seeing 30 girls on a team,” Miller said. “We’ve seen our high school players move on and play university and play with Team Alberta,” Miller said. “One of our players is on Team Canada U20 (in Mavericks graduate Dani Franada). It’s amazing and that’s what I want to see.”

Miller knows how sport can benefit girls in a positive manner and she wants to give them a chance to explore the larger world through athletics. Even if just a handful of girls make the jump, it will be all worth the effort for Miller.

“Giving back to the kids in this community is very important to me,” Miller said. “These kids can go to university, travel overseas to play. Rugby is growing and these kids have a huge potential to move forward with either their education, playing internationally or professionally.”