That’s how she sees herself but it’s also what she hopes will be the case for the entire Canadian rugby sevens team starting Saturday at Deodoro Stadium (11:30 a.m. ET vs. Japan and 4:30 p.m. vs. Brazil). They are serious medal contenders in the Olympic debut of this fast-paced version of the sport but they’ll have to deliver their best games to get by Australia, New Zealand and Britain.
Kish, who strikes a fierce figure with her platinum blonde spiked hair and heavily tattooed arms, is the undisputed leader of this team. But her leadership wasn’t always so certain. It took a change of attitude on her part and head coach John Tait, the architect of this team, deciding to give her a chance.
Back in 2011 — thinking ahead to this very Olympic tournament in Rio — Tait gathered the best women’s sevens players in the country and created a centralized training group in Langford, BC. The core members of the team playing here this weekend have been living and training together ever since — and for the last three years they’ve been a top-three ranked team.
“No, you’re defiant,” he told her.
“How you choose to show up each day affects the team, you’re a leader with or without the title,” she remembers him saying. “That really resonated with me.”
“I was so defiant,” the 28-year-old says, looking back on her younger self.
“I grew up with no mom and my dad worked a lot so it was just my brother and I and we were doing things 11-and 12-year-olds weren’t doing back then, grocery shopping, taking cabs or getting ourselves to our sports or cleaning the house and doing laundry, adult stuff,” Kish says.
“We had to make sure when we went to school our clothes were clean because if they weren’t it would raise questions and they’d call child services.”
“My past has completely shaped who I am today,” she says. “I’m tough because I had to be and now I have this strength that maybe I wouldn’t have if I didn’t go through it, maybe I wouldn’t have the attitude of ‘I can’ if that wasn’t my only choice.”
What made her defiant also made her confident in her own abilities to do whatever has to be done, whether it’s fixing problems at home as a kid or scoring tries on the rugby field as an adult in a Team Canada jersey.
“July (2015) should have been the best month of my life and it ended up being the worst,” Kish says. “It was my birthday, the Pan Am Games, historic moment for myself and the team playing on home soil, there were so many good things.”
But, at the same time, her father was terribly ill halfway around the world. He was travelling in Bali when he had to have emergency surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his stomach.
He was still in the hospital there when she led the Canadian women to victory. The only public hint of the inner turmoil she was going through was the “Ruck Cancer” written on sports tape around her wrists, in support of a rugby-themed fundraiser.
“The beauty about sport is that when the walls are falling down in your life, sport will keep you up and vice versa,” Kish says. “It’s a good to combination to have.”
But here in Rio, for the first time in a long time, both sport and life are going well at the same time.
Her team, ranked third, are feeling particularly strong having won the last World Series event and her dad, who was once an elite hockey player, is in remission and here to see her play in the Olympics.
“He gave up his hockey to raise us so this is my gift back to him,” Kish says.