Cowichan's Cannonball finishes explosive university rugby career
Too bad a movie titled The Cannonball Run has already been made.
The title would have aptly described the rugby career of Cowichan product Brandi Van Eeuwen.
She was nicknamed The Cannonball during her early days in rugby. Every time Van Eeuwen touched the ball, it was like she was shot out of a cannon and it usually took at least half of the opposing team to bring her down.
Things haven't changed too much for Van Eeuwen, 23, who just completed an explosive women's university rugby career at the University of Lethbridge. The Cannonball kept shooting across the try line throughout her university playing days.
"Brad Skene gave me that nickname,'' said Van Eeuwen of her coach at Cowichan Secondary School. "It seems to fit.''
Right up to her last game at Lethbridge, Van Eeuwen was unstoppable. She scored four tries in an appropriate swan song.
Overall, Van Eeuwen has two Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships and six overall national championships to covet as well as a CIS Rookie of the Year award, CIS All-Canadian status, CIS Academic All-Canadian and a cap for Canada.
"She is our program's most accomplished alumni,'' raved Skene, who remains as the T-Birds' girls' team coach at Cow High. "With this said, more importantly, she has become a very self-confident, well-rounded and caring person.''
Van Eeuwen graduated from Cowichan Secondary School in 2006.
"As a coach and teacher, you want your student-athletes to grow and flourish as adults,'' Skene pointed out. "She has shown a great deal of courage with the risks she has taken with university and rugby. She has combined the two to grow as a person.
"I don't think Brandi would be finishing a degree without rugby and I don't think she would have been able to achieve the same levels in rugby without university. We always knew she was a very talented rugby player but her hard work has taken her to places academically and athletic beyond what I had envisioned when I met her as a 14-year-old.''
Van Eeuwen may be finished with rugby at Lethbridge after using up her five years of eligibility, but she's still got some work to do there to complete her Bachelor of Nursing degree in about a year to become a Registered Nurse.
"You can see the light at the end of the tunnel,'' said Van Eeuwen, who recently returned to the valley to visit her family with boyfriend Mike Karr, 26.
"He's been very supportive of my rugby and my nursing,'' she praised of Karr.
Van Eeuwen leaves the university game with no regrets. She always left everything on the field.
"Rugby has always been my go-to,'' she said. "It's always been a sport I've been so passionate for.''
Van Eeuwen is appreciative for the basis in the game Skene provided for her and the opportunities at Lethbridge under the direction of coach Neil Langevin.
"I've had an amazing opportunity in Lethbridge,'' said Van Eeuwen. "It opened up many doors.''
Through it all, she never rested on her laurels.
"I was always trying to prove myself and make sure I was respected in my position,'' Van Eeuwen said.
A recurring ankle injury has given her plenty of trouble for the past four years despite all her success.
"I've been playing through it,'' Van Eeuwen said. "It hasn't gotten worse. It hasn't gotten better.
"It seems to be fine right now. But it seems to have its own personality.''
National championships won in 2008 and 2009 at Lethbridge were obvious highlights. Van Eeuwen's experience also ran the full gamut from playing club and Tsunami rugby to suiting up for B.C. and Canada.
She went on two tours with the Canadian U19s when she was 17. Her second year at university brought a great opportunity for her first Cap for Canada in France when she was called up to replace injured Ashley MacDonald in a match.
Van Eeuwen went to the 2011 Nations Cup, the national senior women's championships in Oakville, Ont. that proved to be another great experience.
"I'm still trying to get my ankle 100 per cent healed,'' she said.
"My future goal is to play in the 2014 World Cup. I'm trying to keep myself as fit as possible in case a call comes out or an email.''
Hard-hitting rugby is all Van Eeuwen knows, no matter what level she's playing.
"As a prop, I'm known for making big hits,'' she said. "That's my job. I'm supposed to make the big hits.''
Van Eeuwen is grateful for everything that's happened to her in rugby.
"It's just knowing if you work hard, you give it your best, there's always doors that are open in rugby and life in general,'' she said.