Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your rugby journey?

My name is Alanna Fittes. Currently I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I play with the Canada Ravens, and this will be my first Rugby League World Cup. For club rugby, I play league for the Alberta Broncos and union for the Leprechaun Tigers Rugby Club.

Starting to play rugby changed the course of my life. Growing up in my hometown of Rimbey, Alberta (population 2,500) I played every sport under the sun - swimming, boxing, track and field, volleyball, badminton, basketball. You name it, I played it! Soccer was my competitive sport of choice and from age 12-18 I would travel 90 minutes to Edmonton 3-4 times a week to play. I was convinced I was going to play at university and beyond.

Cue my first rugby coach Cearan Ormond - he saw the truth! At 15 (Grade 10), Cearan was trying to convince me to play for my High School team, but I was noncommittal because of my soccer dreams. Cearan would not take “no” for an answer and called my dad to tell him “Alanna needs to play rugby. She is not going to make it in soccer, but she can go somewhere with rugby.” That one phone call changed my life!

If Cearan had not called my dad I would not have played rugby for my High School and who knows where I would be. From High School I played provincial rugby for Alberta and set my sights on playing for the University of Alberta. I played rugby union with the University of Alberta Pandas throughout my undergraduate degree. We had a very successful record and even snagged a National Championship in 2013.

My time as a Panda changed my life, as I became obsessed with everything rugby, learned what it meant to be a high-performance athlete, and dreamed of playing internationally. My coaches Jo Hull and Randi Ross gave me the drive to pursue higher levels of rugby and push my limits. After I graduated, I worked, played, began coaching, but I was not quite sure what to do.

I was invited to train with the Senior Women’s Union side and played a few matches with the Maple Leafs. But in 2016, I learned the Canada Ravens would be working towards their first appearance at the Rugby League World Cup and I began the transition to a new sport. And then, my career took an abrupt change.

In July 2016, while training and jumping to catch a kick, I landed and completely ruptured my right ACL. Talk about devastating. This completely changed the trajectory of my playing career - but I was committed to returning for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

In January 2017 I underwent ACL reconstruction and was also accepted into Graduate school at the University of Alberta for a Masters in Coaching. I worked throughout 2017, coached, and aimed to be back for the World Cup but ultimately missed out – it was heart breaking. But I played with the Ravens in the 2018 Commonwealth Championships.

It has been a whirlwind to say the least. But it is a choice and a privilege to compete and play at a high level. We have such a short window in our lives to play sport, and I will always choose to play as long as I love it. My summers have been spent surrounded by amazing people all with a common goal - supporting one another to be the best we can in life and in sport. Why would I want anything else?

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with any of the photos?

I showed my teammates from all over Canada and the world, from Alberta to Valladolid in Spain. There are photos from our 2022 training camps in Ontario, and from the 2022 West vs East match in British Columbia.

 Our July camp was hotter than hell! We go through many different emotions we go through while training. Exhaustion, frustration, and ultimately joy! We love to challenge ourselves as individuals and push one another to excel as a group.

I wanted to show how we train and interact during sport and outside of it. My clubs are so inclusive and welcoming - we have players of all levels working and playing together. We all improve by working together and adapting training for our needs.

Some photos represent my experience during COVID - which was quite lonely - and then coming out of it and travelling the world. My training environment was very isolated for 18 months. I was lucky enough to patch-work a gym together, and this is where the majority of my 2021 Rugby League World Cup preparation was - in my garage, door open, with all the clutter of daily life. You do not need much space; you do not need the fanciest gym. You simply need the right tools and a little bit of creativity.

I also wanted to capture the relationships that we have and how every person is involved in a World Cup campaign. It is not just the team that travels – it is everyone. All our club mates, the kids that play, the friends, everyone who is involved at every level is the reason we as Canada Ravens are able to play.

Are there any good stories of people and teammates you took photos of?

Training and competing at a high level is exhausting - this is true for both sport and work. My friend and teammate Natalie Sarchuck is a crew leader for wildfire firefighting. While we do not get to play together anymore, we have a lifelong friendship and we both take time to reset in nature. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are immense, humbling, and healing - and we are so lucky to be able to play on Canadian soil. It is important to take time away to reset and rejuvenate.

My teammate Winne Chen is an incredible business owner and rugby player. Winne gives back to our community in so many ways – she is always helping at the club, volunteers, coaches the little ones, plays, AND is an incredible chef who opened a new restaurant – Fu’s Repair Shop!

Stevi Schnoor recently had a baby and is continuing to coach. Stevi played at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and is now coaching us. It is amazing to see, as women often do not return to sport after having babies, A lot of women on the Ravens squad have children and I wanted to show how you can compete, be involved with sport, and have kids.

Our medical team does not get enough coverage or recognition for all the amazing work they do. Both Ed and Tamara Smith volunteer their time to make sure we are ready. The medical team has the thankless job of taking care of us and I wanted to express my gratitude for all the work they do. 

What does rugby league and playing for your country mean to you? 

Rugby league has given me countless opportunities and I am so grateful to be representing my country. It is quite surreal to think that you can do so much simply by playing the game that you love. I am honoured to be given the opportunity to play a sport I love, surrounded by amazing people.

What role does rugby league play in your community and country?

League is a relatively new and developing sport and therefore quite small in both my community and Canada. Right now, league provides an opportunity to play more at all levels for more people. For me, this sport shows how diverse rugby can be - it is easy to understand, requires basic skills from every position, and easy to play. 

This World Cup campaign saw an increase in training camps and outreach opportunities in Canada. There are clubs in BC, Ontario, and Alberta right now and we are always growing! For more competitive players, we now have an annual West vs East match which is always a fun rivalry. 

What ambitions do you have for the future?

My ambitions are simple - play the sport for as long as I love it. And once I cannot play any longer, stay involved as a coach and referee. The community, the environment, the people – it is all so special, and nothing really compares to it. I always want to be involved because this sport allows us to grow and be around amazingly supportive people. What more could you want?

What do you expect to change after the RLWC for women's rugby league? What would you like to change? 

This tournament is unique because it places women, men, and wheelchair rugby league athletes on the world stage at the same time. This is incredible! Because of this exposure I expect there to be more opportunities for everyone to play at all levels. This is the change I want to see. 

Sport is such an amazing arena for everyone to find in themselves something they did not know they were capable of. Rugby league truly works to provide opportunities for all people to participate, it is a global community of caring individuals who want everyone to succeed. 

Do you have a message for the next generation of women’s players?

First, look for, and connect with, mentors. We want to see you succeed - and you do not have to go it alone. Stay connected with your coaches, connect with the older players on your team - and ask for help – even if you think you do not need it. It takes a village to raise a child, and as a young athlete you have a huge community of women who have had the same experiences you are having. We are here and we want to help!  

Second, remember that you control how you react to every situation and obstacle. Our life is presented with challenges every day, and you have the choice to view these as a setback or an opportunity to grow. When you are feeling like the world is against you and you simply cannot, recognize that now is the time to seek support and to keep working! Every challenge is an opportunity to see how resilient you are, and you decide how you will react - will you choose to be defeated? Or are you deciding to move forward to keep fighting?

Finally, and most importantly, play with your heart. Play without fear of judgement and play to have fun. At the very end of the day, we are here because we love the sport and the people. Remember we are all human. It does not matter what level you are at or how many awards you receive - everyone deserves to be treated with respect because we are all playing the same sport. As the legendary Canadian coach Ric Suggit would say, play to make your teammates look good.

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