Brigitte O’Driscoll bolsters Canada’s defensive presence at IFAF Worlds in Vancouver

Experiencing a milestone shaped around a memorable time that saw gridiron goddesses descend upon Vancouver, a city whose sporting legacy also involves the 2010 Winter Games, Brigitte O’Driscoll was part of an exciting new generation of Canadian stars that competed in the IFAF Women’s Worlds. Competing on the defensive side of the ball, she was part of a fascinating sporting mythology, carrying on the legacy of her predecessors who competed for Canada at the 2010 and 2013 editions of the Worlds.

Calling the fabled Montreal Blitz her club team, O’Driscoll is a multi-sport star whose athletic resume includes gaining a silver at the Canadian national water polo championships and a soccer championship with Lac St. Louis, who currently studies at Concordia University. Joining 10 of her teammates in gaining exhilaration from wearing her country’s colors in Vancouver, it only enhanced the experience.

O’Driscoll (#58) in the tunnel anticipating the beginning of Canada’s next game at the IFAF Worlds (Credit: Jes Quesada, Game On Photo)

While each remarkable member of the Blitz brings their own unique stories regarding their Team Canada experience, while extending the amazing legacy of the Blitz as a model team in female football, O’Driscoll’s journey was one that clearly demonstrated the qualities of perseverance and sportsmanship.

Having suited up for Team Quebec at the 2016 Canadian women’s nationals, appearing in the gold medal game, she would gain an invitation to the tryouts that took place prior to the holiday season. With the dream of joining other Blitz players into the experience of being amalgamated into the thrill of international play, a detour took place.

“After the Team Canada tryouts in December, I found out in January that I had been named to the practice (squad). Although happy I had even been considered as a potential player at this elite level, I was disappointed I had not earned a spot on the starting line up. I really felt as though I deserved to be on that team and that I had not been able to show my full potential at the tryouts. Getting no news at all for the following months, I had to get used to the idea that I probably wouldn’t be making the trip to BC.”

Considering that O’Driscoll’s pursuits off the gridiron are just as inspiring, fate would play a unique part in shaping her athletic destiny. Prior to the IFAF Women’s Worlds, she continued to add to her amazing legacy as a proud sporting humanitarian.

Part of a very inspiring group of individuals that made the trek to the West African country of Burkina Faso, it is testament to her remarkable compassion. As a side note, the country required development aid, with many efforts involving visiting orphanages and helping build schools and provide supplies.

Taking into account that past missions involved terrorist threats, there was an amazing courage on the part of O’Driscoll. Although her humanitarian effort would be cut short as she was called up to compete for Canada, it was highly understandable. For someone as assiduous and dedicated as O’Driscoll, she would gain the chance to inspire in another unique fashion,

“However, a week before training camp started, I was in Burkina Faso on a humanitarian mission, and I was contacted by Team Canada. They told me they were looking to travel with a few more players than initially planned.

I dropped everything I had planned for the summer and told them I’d definitely take the opportunity. So I got back from Burkina Faso on the Thursday and headed out to BC on the Sunday. I was thrilled that I’d have a second opportunity to show what I could do and to prove that I deserved a spot on that 45 man roster. I was also thrilled to even have the opportunity to travel with the team and represent my country playing a sport that I love.”

Getting the chance to play for the Canadian national team, especially on home soil was the culmination of a dream come true. With gridiron roots that involved being the only girl on the Warriors de LaSalle, along with flag football at John Abbott College, she progressed throughout the seasons and eventually gained a place with the Montreal Blitz as a wide receiver. Earning the privilege of competing on the game’s biggest stage embodies the hopes and dreams of other young players hoping to one day emulate her successes.

O’Driscoll (#58) in action against Team Great Britain at the IFAF Worlds (Credit: Jes Quesada, Game On Photo)

“If someone had told me during my peewee playing days that one day I would have the opportunity to play for Team Canada, I probably would not have believed it. So I was super excited! And I gave it all during training camp and learned the day before our first game vs. Australia; that I’d be on the 45-player roster.

So in the span of two weeks, I went from not expecting to travel with the team, to being brought in as a practice roster player, to then making the actual roster and playing in every game. It really couldn’t have been a better story for me and I was so excited and proud of what I had been able to accomplish.”

The feelings of patriotism ran very strong for O’Driscoll, who is also in the military with the infantry at the Royal Montreal Regiment. During 2016, O’Driscoll experienced a proud milestone in her military career by capturing the Captain McKean trophy (named in honor of George B. McKean, a recipient of the Victoria Cross in World War I), awarded to the unit’s top soldier. Undoubtedly, the military is not the only traditionally male dominated domain where O’Driscoll’s empowering presence is being felt.

Having recently completed her firefighter training, which is a three-year school program in the province of Quebec, such admirable efforts have resulted in two unique aspects. Among the women that have donned Canada’s helmet, Alicia Wilson, a wide receiver who calls the Calgary Rage her club team, is a member of Calgary’s police services.

In addition, O’Driscoll is part of an exciting generation of elite female athletes breaking ground in the field of firefighting. Among said athletes include former professional women’s ice hockey players such as Amber Bowman and Amanda Shaw.

A unique dual image of O’Driscoll displaying her military and firefighting personas (Image obtained from Twitter)

The chance to be part of another exciting movement which has seen women redefine the cultural conventions by playing football is one that embodies the spirit of Canada during its 150th anniversary. Such spirit elicited victorious feelings for O’Driscoll as she made her debut for Canada in the opening tournament of the IFAF Women’s Worlds, as Canada hosted Australia, who were making their international debut.

“The first time I stepped out on the field was absolutely amazing. I have always been an extremely proud Canadian (part of the reason I joined the military) and so to have the opportunity to wear a Canadian jersey, on Canadian soil, and to play at the top level you can play, it was unbelievable.

Walking out of that tunnel and on to the field and seeing all the Canadian flags in the stands and the music blasting and the crowd cheering, I would have stayed in that moment forever if I could have. I was representing my country, in Canada, and I felt pretty proud about it. I literally had goose bumps.

Obviously I was pretty jittery as well and had a nervous kind of excitement. This was my first game at an international level so I had no idea what to expect. But to think of that moment again, it’s still one of my favourite moments ever.”

Wearing number 58, O’Driscoll positions herself against Australia’s offensive line (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

Adding glitter to the prestige of playing for Canada was the fact that it was a shared sense of achievement with her gridiron sisters from the Blitz. Of note, she was one of eight Blitz players debuting for Team Canada. While the majority of the Blitz players in Canada’s colors were on the offensive side of the ball, the presence was also felt on defense.

Fellow defensive teammates Joanie Duchesneau, Virginie Roussel and Amelie Janson also joined O’Driscoll as members of the Blitz making their international debuts. Taking into account that the primary language for these gridiron talents is French, it also resulted in an opportunity for good natured levity, as O’Driscoll reveals,

“To be able share this milestone with so many of my teammates was pretty cool as well. In total we had our equipment manager travel with us, four of our coaches, and 11 players total. The Blitz is a really close knit team and so to be able to share the experience with so many of my teammates really enriched the while experience.

Especially considering that I was playing with my fellow defensive lineman and good friend, Joanie Duchesneau. We were able to bring the fun we always have in our Blitz games to the Team Canada games.

Another thing, it was also special because we were different from the rest of the team simply because we always spoke to each other in French. Quickly enough the rest of the team started referring to us as the “Frenchies”. We had a lot of fun trying to get our teammates to learn some French and speak it once in a while. We were somewhat successful!

So definitely being able to represent the province of Quebec on the team with these girls, and to be able to play alongside some familiar teammates, was a lot of fun!”

Attempting to block a pass in her IFAF debut against Team Australia (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

Playing for Team Canada involved many unique elements for O’Driscoll. As proud as she was to make history by playing in Canada’s first international game on home soil, which was simultaneously Australia’s debut as a competing nation at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, along with the head coaching debut of Dr. Jen Welter, redemption also complemented the theme of history.

Gaining a sack against Australia, O’Driscoll’s high energy and determination quickly made believers, while wearing down the Aussies’ offensive hopes. Such a moment not only strengthened O’Driscoll’s confidence, affirming her ability to be a key member on the defense, it also served as one of the highlights of her experience in Vancouver,

“My favourite moment was definitely the first time I stepped on the field for our first game vs. Australia. I’ll never forget that moment and what it felt like. Another one was when I got a sack against Great Britain. I think it ended up being a 14 yard loss.

Just getting up after the sack and having the crowd erupt like it did and having your teammates rush up to you was pretty special. To be able to make a big play like that at that level, with that crowd, was pretty special. All in all, the entire experience was absolutely amazing.”

The opportunity to be part of such a landmark event, highlighted by an extravagance of elite talent was one richly savored by O’Driscoll. Disconnected from the everyday concerns of the real world, such complications merely trivial, as two weeks focused on the expanse of the gridiron provided a time of tremendous perspective and restoration.

Adapting to an environment where the joyous chaos of football was more than a game, it was a forum worthy of the world class talents of revered competitors such as O’Driscoll. An enthralling time in which this tournament shattered stereotypes is one destined to be an immense repository for legend.

For O’Driscoll, the chance to gleefully indulge in the creation of such an empowering era, a monument to the peerless potential of women in Canadian sport, is one that shall supply a lasting series of reminiscences as her promising gridiron journey continues to unfold,

“To have 2 weeks of your life where your days are all about football was great. We’d have meetings in the morning and then 2 practices a day. When we did get time off, all we wanted to do was study our playbooks or talk about how practice had been, and what we could improve on.

I made some amazing friends and we really had a tight knit team. The chemistry was fantastic, and at the end of the tournament, even though we’d only been together for 2 weeks, it was tough to say goodbye to each other.

We all made some lifelong friendships. We all played for each other and it was incredible. I’m very excited for the next world championships.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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