Brady Reeleder charges up the field with the ball during a Team BC rugby game against a Washington team in August. (Contributed photo)

Former Surrey gymnast shining on rugby pitch for Bayside

An injury forced Brady Reeleder to switch sports, and now he’s thriving at his new endeavour

When Brady Reeleder was younger, gymnastics was his life.

Sure, there was school and friends and family and all the other things that come with being a kid, but gymnastics had been his main focus since he first took up the sport at age two. He would train for hours each week with the Surrey Gymnastics Society, and he’d already won countless medals and competed at big events such as the BC Games, and won provincial titles.

Longterm, he had his eyes on much bigger things – like the Olympics.

“He was super passionate about it,” said Rob Reeleder, Brady’s father.

With that kind of drive and dedication, it might be shocking, then, to see the teenager now – just a few years later – far from pommel horses and parallel bars and on the rugby pitch in Bayside Rugby Club colours instead.

What precipitated such a dramatic transition in sports which, on the surface, could not be more different from one another?

An injury, a growth spurt and an awful lot of frustration, for starters.

First, the injury.

During a training session one day, when he was 12, Reeleder fell to the mat while practising a routine on the parallel bars, landing hard on his right shoulder. The pain was sharp and immediate.

“I felt it right away,” he said. “I was pretty scared. I didn’t want to stop competing, and I knew it was going to take time to heal, but I just didn’t know how long. We weren’t even sure (of the timeline) once we had an X-ray done, so I was pretty nervous.”

The prognosis was equally as painful – a partial tear of his supraspinatus tendon, near his rotator cuff. Thankfully no surgery was required – “it was only a 25 per cent tear, any more and I would’ve needed surgery” – but the rehab process was long and arduous.

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For the better part of the following year, Reeleder underwent all manner of medical treatments, including physiotherapy, massage therapy, MRI scans, orthopedic visits and Prolozone therapy, the latter a treatment that injects anti-inflammatory medications, vitamins and other substances into injured joints.

“It took a year, seeing so many different people,” he explained. “It was a long process and it was frustrating at times, for sure. At the beginning, I was trying to stay positive but by the end I was definitely pretty frustrated.”

Adding to that frustration was that his longtime coach had left the Surrey Gymnastics Society for a new job. As well, during his year away, he’d sprouted up about six inches, from a shade or two above five feet toward his current height of five-foot-nine.

“You kind of need to be small to be a gymnast, and I grew – not a lot, but enough that it would’ve made it harder to compete,” he said.

Spurred by his competitive drive and something of an I’ll-show-‘em’ attitude, Reeleder still planned, initially, to make a triumphant comeback to his longtime sport. However, when the injury finally healed and it came time to return, he had a change of heart.

“I was going through all that stuff – the injury, my coach had left – and I just decided I’d had enough. I had just kind of lost my love for the sport at that point,” he explained. “It got to that one-year point and I was just like, ‘OK, that’s it. I’m done.”

In an attempt to fill the void on his now wide-open sports calendar, Reeleder, a Seaquam Secondary student, joined the Grade 8 basketball team at his school. And though he enjoyed it, it wasn’t quite what he was looking for, he said.

“I really like basketball, but I’m just not really a basketball player. I don’t have a natural talent for it – I had to work hard at it,” he said.

One day, a family friend – who played with the Brit Lions Rugby Club’s men’s team in Delta – suggested Reeleder give the sport a try, and invited him out to a few practices.

“I wasn’t tackling or anything, and it was my first time even touching a rugby ball, but I immediately fell in love with it,” he said. “I had to learn everything – rules, everything. I didn’t know a thing about the sport.”

The Lions didn’t have an organized youth program, Reeleder said, but his dad soon discovered the South Surrey-based Bayside club. The younger Reeleder soon joined the Sharks’ under-14 program.

“I went out for a practice and then just continued on from there,” he said, admitting that it was an “odd transition to go from winning provincials in gymnastics to finding a completely different sport.”

The most difficult part of the transition, he admits, was improving his endurance.

“That was the biggest challenge because endurance isn’t something you really need in gymnastics,” he said.

From there, he worked daily on his other skills, including passing. Tackling, however, took the longest to master – “that’s not something I could practise at home.”

Though the learning curve was steep, Reeleder proved to be something of a natural talent. He’s currently wrapping up his season with Bayside’s U16 boys team under the tutelage of coach Pose Seumanutafa, capping a year in which he was selected to play for Vancouver South at Provincial Rugby Championships, as well as play for Team BC against a Washington team in August.

“I have the same love for rugby now that I had for gymnastics before,” he said.

Releeder said the first time he truly felt like a rugby player was after his first-ever game, with Bayside’s U14 side. He still remembers his first tackle – and how much he enjoyed it, despite coming from a sport in gymnastics that is without such jarring physicality.

“It was awesome actually – I loved it,” he said. “I love it now – it’s a good way to get out some aggression. And I had definitely built up some anger, some frustration for that first one.”

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