By David Grossman
For years, Matt King was the poster boy for rugby at the high school, university and Canadian national team levels.
King is a former athlete of the year, multi-sport competitor, recipient of several Ontario championships and most valuable player awards, and that’s just from his time at Upper Canada College, King went on to stardom in a rugged sport that he was first introduced to in Grade 9.
King played for Canada at two World Cups, had a professional rugby career and was well educated with degrees from Western University and the University of Cambridge. But the articulate and talented King hit a serious roadblock and some significant setbacks the past decade.
After receiving top fitness scores on the national team, King’s competitive rugby career ended shortly after his 25th birthday.
It stemmed from a neck injury suffered while playing for Canada. King also learned of an inherited genetic condition. Both health issues resulted in him being unable to play for Canada at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
“I feel like everything in my life was taken away just when big things were going to happen,” says the 36-year-old, who now lives in Calgary. “It has been a pretty epic battle, far greater than competing on the rugby field or the weight room. But I know I will get through it.”
Perseverance is huge for King, who’s gritty, resilient and the owner of strong leadership skills. Despite living off a disability allowance, he’s been the recipient of enormous support from his UCC buddies.
“I received a great education at UCC, and the academics are important,” says King. “But the intangibles make the difference and I learned that at UCC, too.
“Life can be gloomy at times, but I don’t know where I’d be without my UCC friends. They are one special group.”
While King has fond memories of being selected Ontario University Athletics rookie of the year and MVP while playing for Western, as well as two provincial rugby gold medals, he pursued further education in the United Kingdom at Cambridge – one of the top universities in the world.
And playing rugby was always something King held in high esteem.
“Looking back, my biggest highlight in sport was playing against New Zealand in the World Cup and being recognized as the best Canadian on the field – quite an honour,” he says.
“Yet, my fondest athletic experience was in 1998 when UCC won the Ontario high school rugby championship and we were considered to be the unknown team.
“Some wonderful days at UCC. Times were so good that I didn’t want to go home after the school day.”