Multi-sport athlete John Abraham chosen for Rugby Canada

by Gayne Kalustian | 1/6/15 6:13pm

The difference between people and athletes is more than just a uniform. Almost anyone can work hard, suit up and hit the gym. The real difference is simple — people will look at their talents and see what they can do, but athletes will look at their talents and see what they can’t do. Then they will do it.

John Abraham ’16 is an athlete.

The Montreal native turned heads when he broke through to the finals in both the 100 and 200 meter dashes at the Ivy League Heptagonal Outdoor Championships last spring, earning a spot as junior sprinters captain this fall. In between stadium runs, morning workouts and a full slate of classes, Abraham penciled in time for yet another commitment — track’s near antithetical counterpart, rugby. The seasons of the two sports overlap and combine to consume most of the athlete’s life, demanding sprint workouts by day and rucking drills by night.

“I’ve always been a multiple sport athlete,” Abraham said. “Just doing track was a little one-dimensional for me.”

Abraham, who logged two years of rugby experience when he lived in Canada as a teenager, abandoned the sport for several years to focus on track and academics. When he came to Dartmouth, however, his old coach put him in touch with Dartmouth Rugby Football Club head coach Gavin Hickie, who found a spot for Abraham on the wing because of the athlete’s impressive speed.

“John is an unbelievable asset in terms of speed to have on the wing,” DRFC co-captain Peter Savarese ’15 said. “For someone who you would think would just go straight ahead as a sprinter, he’s also shifty. He’s really just a pretty dangerous player.”

And still, more heads turned. This time, Abraham caught the attention of Rugby Canada. The contact came through Canada’s Try4Gold program, which aims to identify and develop young rugby talent for the country’s national team.

With the support of the DRFC and its alumni, Abraham spent two and half weeks in Victoria, British Columbia, training with Rugby Canada. After the two weeks were over, the Canada Maple Leafs, a development team for the men’s national sevens team, offered Abraham a spot.

Abraham was chosen as one of 12 Canadians to play with the Maple Leafs — three of whom who came down from the national team to balance the mix of new and experienced players. They flew to South America last Monday to compete in tournaments in Argentina and Chile. The recent fifteens season he played with Dartmouth, Abraham said, helped prepare him — a smaller, faster player — for the level of play that can be expected internationally.

“I think definitely the weakest point in my game is the contact,” he said. “In fifteens you can’t really avoid it. It’s in your face, and you just gotta get into it, so that was a big piece for me, though I still have to work on it.”

While Abraham may be focusing on what he still needs to work on to perform at his absolute best, first year Rugby Canada head coach Liam Middleton has expressed his enthusiasm for having Abraham on the team and the potential the athlete has for success.

“He is an exceptional athlete and has the right character traits to succeed as an Olympic athlete, and we are all excited about his potential,” first year Rugby Canada head coach Liam Middleton said in an interview with Canada Rugby Communications.

When sprinters like Abraham come to a rugby team, it’s not unusual that they find themselves placed on the wing — a position which benefits greatly from speed and isn’t typically relied on to lock down the inside channels in a game of fifteens. Contact is limited, with some exceptions, to being tackled on a run and going head-to-head with a fullback, outside center or another wing.

If the change of sport, uniform and country for Abraham wasn’t enough, the Maple Leafs informed the junior after training to expect to be tried out as a scrum-half.

Yet with the composure that must accompany a dynamic athlete, Abraham dismissed any thought of getting ahead of himself.

“I did a lot of work at scrum-half when I trained in Canada, but I’m not going to read too much into it. I’m gonna see what happens,” Abraham said. “I’d like to try it out because I think it gives me more of the play-making ability and more space to think as opposed to getting the ball on the wing and having to take one cut. It gives me a little bit more freedom.”

Though it’s unclear where the athlete will ultimately be in the lineup, Hickie feels that Abraham’s speed and on-field utility place him just on the periphery of making Canada’s senior squad.

Upon his return to the DRFC, the team will have a look at Abraham as a scrum-half, Hickie said. The position is currently held by Eagles Sevens captain Madison Hughes ’15, who is graduating this year.

The Canada Maple Leafs team will compete in a tournament in Argentina on Jan. 10 and Jan. 11 and will then travel to Chile to compete in another tournament on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18.