Interview with Owain Ruttan, UBC Student-Athlete

Our October 2020 Spotlight features Owain Ruttan, a top UBC student-athlete. An accomplished varsity rugby player, Owain has represented Canada as a 2018 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy in Bucharest, Romania. Previously, as a Rugby Ontario Junior Blues player, he captained the under 17 and under 19 teams in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Presently, he is a fifth year student in the Combined Major in Science program, where he is pursuing biology, chemistry, and computer science. In a fantastic interview, Owain discusses his decision in declaring his major at UBC, highlights his strategies to balance varsity athletics with academics, and offers advice on how to navigate this pandemic school year.

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1. You’re a varsity rugby player at UBC, and have previously represented Canada at the 2018 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy in Bucharest, Romania. How did you first get involved in rugby and what has drawn you to continue playing?

I first got involved in rugby through my family. My grandfather is a huge rugby fan, so he played a big role in sparking my interest in the sport. Growing up, he would always have a game on the TV when I would visit, and seeing his passion for rugby inspired me to start playing myself. When I expressed an interest in playing, my mother was more than happy to help me get involved. I am very grateful for her support throughout my rugby career, whether it be driving me to all of my practices and games, or cheering me on from the sideline. Without my family, I would never have become the player I am today.

Continuing to play rugby as I grew up was an easy choice for me. Through rugby, I have made countless friendships, been able to travel the world, and created memories that will last a lifetime. Additionally, I have developed transferable skills such as teamwork, resilience, and work ethic. I am thankful for the life skills and connections that I have obtained through the sport. Rugby has grown to become a massive part of my life, and I hope to stay involved in it for a long time to come. 

2. How did you find the transition from high school to undergrad? How did your moving from a small town to Vancouver impact this?

As is the case for most first year students coming directly out of high school, transitioning to undergrad was a learning experience for me. I had never lived on my own before, and moving across the country from Cobourg, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia did not make it any easier. Although, living in residence as a first year certainly helped with this transition. Being surrounded by other young students who faced many of the same challenges was comforting. Additionally, being on a meal plan and not having to worry about cooking for myself allowed me to have extra time to adjust to the workload of a university student. I would definitely recommend living in residence to any young student moving away from home for the first time. 

The drastic distance between my school and my hometown was obviously a challenge as I moved away to school, too. Unlike some of my high school peers, I could not just drive home on the weekends for a home-cooked meal and my mother to do my laundry. My mother still teases me about the time I called her asking how to do laundry on my own for the first time. There were definitely times that I felt homesick when I first moved to Vancouver, but I think that is something that everybody will go through when they eventually move away from home; it’s all just a part of growing up. If anything, being away from my family gave me a greater appreciation for the time I do get to spend with them. 


3. Why did you decide to study at UBC’s Combined Major in Science program with a specialization in Biology, Chemistry, and Computer Science?

When it came time for me to declare a major at UBC, I was torn. Since high school, my favorite subjects were biology and chemistry, and it seemed wrong for me to choose only one to focus on. I considered many other majors, but none of them seemed quite right for me. I wanted the flexibility to study a wide range of sciences, and UBC’s Combined Major in Science program was a perfect way for me to do that. Although I lacked experience in computer science at the time, technology is everywhere in the workplace, and I felt that working computer science into my major would only be beneficial for me in the future. Since then, I have developed a passion for computer science which parallels my love for biology and chemistry. As I approach the end of my undergrad, I’m glad for choosing this program. I have developed in-depth knowledge in all three of my specializations, and now have many exciting options to choose from in the form of career opportunities and graduate studies. 

4. What are some challenges that you’ve encountered as a student athlete and how have you overcome them?

Being a student athlete has been one of my favourite parts of my university experience. Of course, playing a sport alongside my studies has presented unique challenges— the most significant being the time commitment arising from daily practices and weekly games. With less time every week to focus on school, I have worked to improve my time management skills so that I don’t fall behind in my classes. Initially, it was difficult to juggle academics and athletics, but I have become more disciplined. I make the most of the time I have off the field by staying organized, keeping to-do lists, and optimizing my free time. 

Notably, all varsity teams at UBC understand and emphasize that school comes first, and are happy to give an athlete time off when they need to focus on their studies. I am very thankful for the attitudes of my coaches in this regard. Staying on top of schoolwork is a challenge for all students, and I am personally grateful for the time management skills that I have developed while playing a sport alongside my degree. 

5. What’s been the best experience of your undergraduate career thus far?

Playing rugby at UBC has been an incredible experience for me. If I had to choose just one instance, it would have to be the World University Rugby Invitational Tournament in Tokyo, Japan last year. I experienced some of the highest quality rugby while playing in this tournament. The competition featured reputable universities from around the world with participants from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, France, England, Russia, and of course, Japan. Aside from actually playing rugby, I very much enjoyed exploring Tokyo and learning about Japanese culture. One of my favourite memories from the trip was visiting a local elementary school to teach the kids about rugby through an outreach program organized by the tournament. Although there was a language barrier, connecting with these kids and teaching them about the game I love was a very fulfilling experience. These are just a few highlights from an incredible adventure last year. Opportunities such as these are another one of many reasons I am thankful to be involved in rugby at UBC.

6. With the upheaval of COVID-19, what are some words of advice that you have for incoming undergrads?

Attending university during the upheaval of COVID-19 has been a unique experience to say the least. While the pandemic has obviously been a stressful time for many, my advice to incoming undergrads would be to make the most of the current situation. The resources to facilitate online learning, which most universities are participating in, are there for you. Don’t hesitate to jump into your professor’s office hours on Zoom, and don’t shy away from asking questions just because you’re not speaking face-to-face. Personally, one positive I am able to find with online learning is the absence of commute time. Not having to transit to campus, or even walk between classes has been a huge time-saver for me, which I am grateful for. This change has provided me with more time to focus on my studies and health, and more importantly, given me more time to sleep in! While the online learning experience may be challenging to get accustomed to, the resources are there, so enjoy the comforts of home while you can. 

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Owain is happy to answer your questions through our free National Young Leader mentorship program. Connect with him here.

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