Retired Canadian Football League running back and Olympic bobsledder Jesse Lumsden

Former football pro slides in nicely with rugby vets in Langford workouts

Jesse Lumsden could be preparing for yet another Olympic transition

From football to bobsledding to … rugby?

Former Canadian Football League running back and Olympic bobsledder Jesse Lumsden was in Langford this week, participating in two days of workouts with the national senior men’s sevens rugby team. After some casual conversations with friends in the sport, the Calgary resident was invited to Rugby Canada’s training grounds to get put through his paces and gauge his desire to try rugby more seriously.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Lumsden, 32, said on the sidelines at Westhills Stadium.

He played a little rugby in high school back in Ontario and at McMaster University in Hamilton, but admitted having a steep learning curve running with Rugby Canada national teamers.

“There’s so much to learn. There’s a ton to this game.”

While his presence at the workouts Monday and Tuesday was not directly a product of Rugby Canada’s crossover athlete pre-Olympics recruitment initiative for the  sevens program, called Try4Gold, Lumsden is the first such athlete to run through drills with the squad here since the initiative was unveiled.

Having already converted from one high-level sport to another in his career, he’s familiar with the quality of athletes engaged in other sports.

“I believe Canada has a very, very deep pool of talented athletes,” Lumsden said. “Having crossover athletes not only raises the exposure of the sport, but allows you to find athletes where you might not have found them before.”

Try4Gold will see Rugby Canada’s high performance staff travelling across the country in search of “big, fast, agile and evasive men’s and women’s players who are mentally resilient,” women’s sevens team head coach John Tait said last week. Sevens rugby will be contested at the Olympics for the first time in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

The muscular six-foot-one, 208-pound Lumsden, who has taken some time away from bobsleigh and been concentrating on running and shedding some weight, still appears to qualify in at least a few of those categories.

So does he see his football skills crossing over with sevens rugby?

“In terms of your body awareness on the field, I think so. You also see a lot of similarities with basketball and hockey, especially the way the ball works around the field.”

Rugby Canada’s high performance manager, Steve Lancaster, said Lumsden didn’t look out of place on the field.

“I was pleasantly surprised, for (him being) someone who hasn’t played a lot of rugby. He fit in pretty well, I thought,” Lancaster said.

Bringing him to Langford to train was no shot in the dark, however.

“Jesse was invited here ‘cause he ticks a lot of boxes for us as an athlete and he’s got an impressive sporting resume,” Lancaster said. “I think what’s been really pleasing to us over the last couple of days is, we know he’s an athlete, but what we’ve learned is he’s an impressive individual as well. So he ticks a lot of boxes on the character front, as well as on the athletic front.”

Whether Lumsden has a future in sevens rugby will be mainly up to team staff, but Lancaster said it’s also partially up to the athlete to decide if he sees it as an option.

Lumsden had no idea what might happen down the road, but plans to keep an open mind.

“This is an opportunity and … you never want to say ‘no’ to an opportunity. If the biggest thing that comes out of this is I help raise some awareness for some other athletes who may look to transition, then I’ve helped in a way.”

editor@goldstreamgazette.com