Cameron Pierce transformed his life from lazy stoner to world-class rugby player, all because of one teacher’s influence.
After flunking Grade 8 French and on the brink of failing Grade 9 English, Pierce was given an opportunity that changed his life.
“It was a critical time in my life. My older brother passed away and I was struggling. I was smoking a lot of pot and being irresponsible,” said Pierce. “Thankfully, my English teacher, Mr. (Josh) Vance, approached me with the idea of joining the rugby team to help me stay on track.”
Vance coached the Grade 8/9 Lakers rugby team with Alan McAndrew at Kalamalka.
Pierce came back to where it all began to deliver his message to kids. He wanted to try and keep them off the path he was heading down until one day one of his mentors helped him out.
“We all have difficult choices to make in life. I had the help of a teacher and it turned my life around,” said Pierce.
This wasn’t Pierce’s first time speaking in front of a crowd. He regularly talks to elementary students in France, in French, a class he once failed.
“Cam has unbelievable determination and mental toughness,” said Ian Busfield, who coached Pierce in Grade 12. “I’m not surprised at all that all his work paid off and he accomplished exactly what he wanted to do with his life.”
It was playing for Busfield when Pierce got noticed by a University of Victoria scout.
After upgrading some classes over the summer, Pierce elected to attend UVic and helped the Vikings capture the B.C. Premier League in 2009-10.
Following his second season at UVic, Pierce made the U20 National team and started in all six games.
With the international exposure, came the pro contracts. Pierce signed an academy contract with the U23 Association Sportive Montferrandaise Clermont Auvergne in France when he was 19. He was an assistant captain.
His work in the pro circuits earned him a spot on the Canadian men’s senior team and played Japan during the Pacific Nations Cup in Nagoya when he was 21.
You can tell Pierce shops in the meat department at grocery stores. He stands 6-foot-7 and weighs in at 240 pounds. He even looks the part with a coarse black beard, a nose that has seen better days, hulk-like arms and a pair of cauliflower ears
A month after the Pacific Nations Cup, he signed on with Selection Paloise, a team out of Pau, France, in the ProD2 Champions League.
“This is the big time. I compare it to a hockey player from Belarus coming over to the NHL and playing against the Canucks,” said Pierce.
A professional rugby career doesn’t come without a few major injuries. After a few years of rugby and growing up playing every contact sports imaginable, combined with his poor posture and gargantuan size, his neck gave out.
“I had my C4 and C5 vertebrae fused together with four screws and a titanium plate was inserted,” recalls Pierce, who missed the next two tours with the Canadian team while he rehabilitated. “Doctors told me I would be lucky to walk again and I would never be able play rugby.”
Well, clearly those doctors don’t read La République des Pyrénées, a French publication that covered Pierce and the Section Paloise as they won the ProD2 division last season and will be promoted into the Top 14, the most prestigious rugby league in the world.
Pierce is considered small in this league. Guys playing in the second row are 20 to 30 pounds heavier.
“Winning the championship was amazing, it was the most fun I’ve ever had. We have a great group of guys,” said Pierce.
Pierce’s rugby league is divided into two divisions. The lower tier consists of 16 teams with the top two getting promoted into the Top 14. That is where his team is headed now.
“It’s the best of the best. I’m going to be playing against guys from the (New Zealand) All Blacks and other players that play at the World Cup level,” said Pierce, who has signed on for two more years with the club.
Living in Pau, a small town in the southwest of France, Pierce is a rock star. He plays in front of thousands of raving fans each night. The city was in bedlam following the championship. The streets were shut down for one grand party. His face was appearing on bottles of Jurançon, a red wine sponsor for the club.
Now 23, Pierce left for France on Sunday and will train there for three weeks. While his season in France begins mid-August, Pierce hopes to be in Victoria training with the National team in preparation for the World Cup which goes September in England.
As for the future, just more rugby for Pierce.
“I hope I can play rugby for another 10 years and I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter, so hopefully I can do that when my career is over.”
Friends and family can follow Pierce’s career through his Facebook account; Cameron Pierce Rugby or follow him on Twitter @cdpierce4.