'Not looking for blame,' grieving father says of fatal rugby tackle

OTTAWA – High school rugby player Rowan Stringer died doing what she loved, her father said Monday, describing as little more than a tragic accident the awkward mid-air tackle that ended up taking her life.

“We’re not looking for blame,” Stringer’s father Gordon said as his daughter’s friends and family members struggled to come to terms with the stunning loss.

“She was doing something that she loved, an accident happened and it was a very bad result in the end.”

Stringer, who declared on her Facebook page in 2012 that “rugby is life,” was on the field Wednesday when she was tackled in mid-air, hitting the ground virtually upside down, her head and neck absorbing the blow.

The avid sports enthusiast was knocked out cold and never regained consciousness. She died Sunday night in hospital.

“She was in the air for a little bit, I don’t think she was thrown particularly far,” her father said. “When she hit the ground most of the impact was taken by her head and her neck.”

Students and staff at John McCrae Secondary School were told the news Monday as they returned to class, where they were offered support from a crisis management team.

The Grade 12 student was captain of her rugby team and had played the sport extensively ever since it was reintroduced to her school last year. She also played during the summer as part of a local team in south-end Ottawa.

In light of the tragedy, all sports at the school have been cancelled until further notice.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board said it would examine what happened on the field as everyone comes to grips with the incident.

“In situations like this, we find ourselves with many unanswered questions,” the board said in a statement.

“We will review this situation to see what can be learned. Today, our focus is on a young girl who was injured doing something she loved and how we as a community can come together respectfully to grieve her loss and celebrate her life.”

Doctors who performed an autopsy on the teenager were unable to pinpoint whether her head injury caused her death, or whether it was the impact on her neck, Gordon Stringer said.

If nothing else, the family is hopeful that the medical community can use the autopsy results to eventually aid in preventing similar sports accidents, he added.

Rugby Canada CEO Graham Brown offered condolences to the Stringer family, but in a statement did not talk about the dangers associated with the often bruising sport.

“Now is the time for all of us to come together and support the Stringer family as they deal with this terrible loss,” said Brown.

“We will provide updates on how the Canadian rugby community can support the Stringers.”

As the grim reality of her prognosis set in over the weekend, her family kept the teen on life support, knowing that she would want her organs donated.

Her father described how, on the day she received her driver’s licence, she immediately located the organ-donor card, filled it out and mailed it back the next day.

“We’ve discussed (organ donation) previously, but it was more in the context of my wife and I,” he said.

“When the time came on the weekend to make that decision, it was very clear we had to honour her wishes and make sure that that happened.

“But it wasn’t easy.”

Six of Rowan’s organs have already gone to others, Stringer said: her kidneys went to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, while lungs and pancreas also went to patients in Toronto and her liver to London, Ont.

“And her heart,” he said, “stayed in Ottawa.”

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