Written by Veronica Noronha
Three words to best describe Rugby player Jesse Lofthouse? Passion, commitment and heart.
Captain of the Markham Irish Rugby Club men’s senior team, Lofthouse says, “I am a Markham Irish boy. Always have been and always will be”. While he has always been interested in sports, including football and baseball, his older brother inspired him to play Rugby over a decade ago and he has been playing ever since.
When Lofthouse talks about Rugby, he exudes passion. His commitment, love for his team, and incredible skill, are a winning combination. Moving up through the ranks in local clubs, high school teams, the Ontario Provincial program and high-performance training camps, his love for the game was strengthened. While playing all over Canada and the world, including the United States, Scotland, England, and Wales, he learned a lot about himself and the sport. Throughout his career, like most high-performance athletes, he has experienced wins and losses (professionally and personally).
In 2013, Lofthouse and his team won the coveted McCormick Cup, the title championship for the top Senior Men’s First Teams, along with the annual Eastern Ontario Rugby Union (EORU) Champion1. Just one year later, Lofthouse was hampered with a shoulder injury which required surgery. He admits that he doubted he would ever be able to win the McCormick Cup again. Like a true champion, he rallied and defeated his self-doubt. He put everything he had into rehab and was committed to coming back stronger than ever, for himself and for his team. And did he ever. In 2018, he led his team to win the McCormick Cup, again. This win meant more to him than any other. It was emotional. It was personal. The day before the semi-finals were set to begin, Lofthouse received devastating news that his friend and teammate suddenly passed away. Lofthouse knew he had two choices: collapse in grief, or pull out everything he had to win in honour of his friend. He chose the latter and led his team to victory, 24-20 over Brantford. When he realized they had won, he says, “I fell to my knees and knew this was the ultimate feeling of accomplishment”. Clearly, he is all heart.
For Lofthouse, the highs and lows in Rugby are not just about his career. Even though the game has a long history in Canada, he sees a big gap in growth for the sport. He says, “Canada needs a development path for athletes and a bigger effort to recruit kids at a young age”. He also says, “compared to other sports in Canada, there are limited resources for Rugby, even in cases for clubs that have a high win rate”. Lofthouse believes that Rugby has a reputation for being rough and less safe than other sports. Lofthouse wants to bust this misconception. He says, “most people do not know that tackling is structured”. To avoid injury, such as concussions, Rugby players have to be mentally in tune with their bodies. They need to know how to run into a play, make and receive a tackle. It is not just about hitting your opponent or running the ball up and down the field. It is a mental game as much as it is physical. Lofthouse believes that to change this perception, parents and kids need more education.
What’s next for Lofthouse? He will continue to play for at least a few more years and he is seriously considering training to become an official. He is also committed to doing his part educating the public on the sport he is so passionate about.
For more information about the Markham Irish Rugby Club, go to: https://www.markhamirishrugby.com/.