Karen Paquin helped Canada hoist a trophy in Japan last month in her return from a long-term knee injury. Now the 31-year-old from Quebec City looks to do the same on home soil.
Langford, B.C., plays host this weekend to the HSBC Canada Women's Sevens, with the second-ranked Canadian women opening play Saturday against No. 4 Australia, No. 6 Ireland and unranked Brazil.
"The morale is super-high," said Paquin. "We're excited obviously to play at home and play in front of fans and our family and friends but at the same time we're pretty focused on what we have to do and the task at hand."
With the top four teams in the season standings securing automatic Olympic qualification, Canada could punch its ticket to Tokyo on the weekend given Langford is the penultimate stop on the six-event World Rugby Women's Series. Essentially Canada needs to maintain or increase its points lead over fifth-place France.
For Paquin, who helped Canada to bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, this weekend is another step forward from a meniscus injury suffered at the Women's World Cup in August 2017. Two surgeries and months of rehab followed.
"My life hasn't been a straight line since Rio so it feels like it's quite a while ago, but at the same time the memories are still there and I still get excited whenever I watch a little piece of video," said Paquin.
She enjoys showing off the medal to kids when she talks at schools. "It's really nice to have that and be able to share it with the young ones, especially."
The Quebecer left her job as a chemical engineer and her family in 2012 to come to B.C. and try out for the national sevens team. Then, after Rio, she gave up her carded status with the sevens squad to rejoin the 15s team.
While it was hard on her finances, she says the move helped add to her rugby toolbox.
"I'm really happy that I did that and I would do it all over again if I had to."
But it came at a cost.
Paquin, a key player in the 15s team, injured her right knee against Wales in Canada's second game of the World Cup. An MRI confirmed the meniscus injury, with Paquin facing either immediate surgery or trying to play through the pain and hope the knee didn't lock up the rest of the way.
Paquin chose to play. "It wasn't perfect but it worked," she said with a laugh.
Showing a strong pain threshold, she spent a month trying her hand at bobsled after the rugby tournament.
"That was like straight running ... and I was on anti-inflams (anti-inflammatories) at the time. But as soon as I stopped the anti-inflams, then my knee blew up. So the surgery came pretty quick after that."
"The long haul started from there, with the ups and downs of not really knowing what was happening and why it wasn't healing properly," she added.
It turned out Paquin had a second smaller tear in her knee that became a problem after the first surgery. Doctors tried several injections before opting for a second surgery last August —a year after the first operation — with six months rehab after that.
In a way, news of the second tear was welcome given it explained the problem. Had the second surgery shown nothing, Paquin knew retirement might have been in the cards given they had tried everything else.
She stepped up her training in January, "able to run, able to cut, feeling more like myself on the field."
Paquin returned to action at an invitational tournament in Nice, France, a month before the April 20-21 World Series event in Kitakyushu, Japan.
"The first hit that I made I still remember," she said. "I was running against Japan and I hit a girl and I got up and I was like 'OK. We'll be all right. Things are going to be OK. I'm still a rugby player. I'm still good at this. I still remember.'"
The Japan win marked Canada's first Cup success on the World Series since February 2017. Paquin scored three tries at the tournament, upping her career total on the World Series to 56.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press