North York’s Kiki Idowu is in her first year of her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia (UBC), but on top of being a student, she’s also chasing a big dream.
“Sport is always something I was drawn to and wanted to be part of my life,” said Idowu. “I enjoyed being on all the school sports teams I could get my hands on but I needed the extra push of support to take my passion to the next level. Sometimes it just takes someone or something to believe in you, to go all in.”
You could say life is fairly normal for the 18-year-old kinesiology major, but in addition to academic and career goals, Idowu is also on the fast track to potentially making the Olympics one day. In January, the rugby standout was named an RBC Future Olympian through RBC Training Ground, a free program designed to find and fund the next generation of Team Canada. The program has become known for its ability to change the lives of young athletes by providing them the resources they need to achieve their Olympic dreams and opportunities they may otherwise not be exposed to. In fact, 13 RBC Training Ground alumni have already become Olympians and as many as 30 RBC Training Ground graduates are in line to compete in the Paris Olympic Games this summer.
Idowu is hoping to be next—and thanks to her raw athletic potential impressing Team Canada scouts at RBC Training Ground events, becoming an RBC Future Olympian will provide her with access to funding, Olympian mentorship, and National Sport Organization support towards her Olympic dreams.
For Idowu, rugby just wasn’t something that she ever envisioned. But after trying it on a whim in high school, she was hooked, and now has her sights on being one of the best at the sport. RBC Training Ground not only connected her with the rugby community in Canada, it also has exposed her to like-minded athletes her age she wouldn’t otherwise have met. Kiki has already seen early success in her sport – bringing home a silver medal at the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago.
Complex Canada interviewed Idowu to learn more about when she got serious about sports, her Olympic goals, and how an initial setback helped her adopt a new mindset.
How did you initially get into rugby?
It was actually through a coach of mine in middle school. He thought that I'd be good at it. And then I did it in high school and I haven't looked back since.
Did you grow up in an environment where rugby was easily accessible?
Not even. I didn't know what rugby even was until my coach told me about it. He came up to me and said, ‘here's a sport I think you'd be great at.’ He showed me a video of him playing and at first, I thought it looked cool, but it was so new to me I didn’t understand the rules or technique. But immediately after I tried it for the first time, I knew this was going to be the sport for me. Before that, I was doing a lot of track & field, a little gymnastics and some hockey, but I felt an instant connection with rugby.
How did you get into RBC Training Ground? What was the experience like?
I heard about it through Canadian Sport Institute Ontario. It was very last-minute opportunity that I discovered, I think it was only a few days before my local qualifying event was to happen, but I decided to give it my all. I went into it thinking ‘just do this, you never know what could come out of it.’ Then I went to the Toronto qualifying event and it was really motivating to be surrounded by other high performing athletes trying their best to reach their goals. Seeing other athletes with like-minded personalities, it's like you’re seeing someone who matches your energy. It really was something that I hadn't experienced before, so being around that environment was a really positive experience for me.
When did you feel like you had a potential future in sports?
Probably around when I was 15. That was when I started to get a bit more serious with rugby. I started with doing some extra conditioning and extra work on my athletic skills, and then I got really into my sport and I stuck to it. Knowing I was actually good at a sport really helped motivate me to propel me on my athletic journey. Now I have a goal to make the Olympics and to be a top performer in sport in general. Before that, it was more casual and in school, but now that I have the resources and support it’s a much more serious pursuit for me.
What were the biggest barriers for you getting into sports?
Growing up in North York in Toronto, my community wanted kids to be physically active and would encourage us to join as many programs as we could. I joined everything I could get my hands on through school sports, but resources were hard to come by so we did as much as we could with what was available to us. My family wasn’t super into sports either, so I wasn't really raised around a very active sporting community, and the sports that were available were mainly soccer, basketball, and track. I didn’t know anyone who played rugby.
Did you grow up with the rep of being the most active kid in the neighbourhood?
I've always been pretty muscular growing up and naturally good at sports. So it was nice to be around people at RBC Training Ground who were also like that in their communities and shared the same experiences I did. The first qualifying event I participated in went well. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the tests, but I did pretty well matching my results to the benchmarks. I also got to meet some RBC Future Olympians and RBC Training Ground alumni, which was inspiring to me as a young athlete.
And what was it like attending your first RBC Training Ground National Final in 2022, even though you didn't earn RBC Future Olympian status that year?
I really loved the experience, it was amazing. As soon as I walked in, I asked myself, ‘Is this real?’ I was honestly a bit taken aback because I was already surprised I made it to the Final, and then when stepping inside the venue, it was crazy. The environment of the Final had me thinking, ‘this is what sport is meant to be.’ Just seeing everyone share their support and everyone clapping, it was an unforgettable experience. I didn't make the RBC Future Olympians roster that year, but I was really proud of my testing score. So I wasn't necessarily upset at my performance, but I just knew that if I have the opportunity to do this again, I'm absolutely taking it. And I’m glad I did.
And then you tried again the following year, but this time you qualified.
My mentality was the same as the first time: you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Even though I didn’t become an RBC Future Olympian in 2022, I saw a little note from RBC saying ‘your journey starts here’ and that’s exactly how I felt about the opportunity to try RBC Training Ground again. So I put the work in, improved on my athletic skills , and just made it happen. Growing up, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a perfectionist, but I did strive to be great in everything I did. Sometimes I’d get hit with a setback, but I started to change my mindset as I climbed higher through the ranks of sports. A mindset focused on my setbacks is not going to get me to my Olympic goal. So I changed that mindset to treat everything like a stepping stone—and I saw proof in that through RBC Training Ground.
How did it feel to finally become an RBC Future Olympian after trying a second time?
When I got the message that I was named an RBC Future Olympian this year, and would be receiving funding and mentorship support from RBC to pursue my dreams, it felt like a testament to all the hard work I put in and my mindset switch. It brings me closer to my goals and I’m eternally grateful for everyone who was a part of it.
How has your life changed becoming an RBC Future Olympian?
I received an RBC Training Ground athlete sponsorship which provides financial support and also places you within the sport that you’re best at. For me, I’m thrilled that Rugby Canada is interested in me because it’s a sport I love, but the beauty of RBC Training Ground is many other athletes get discovered by National Sport Organizations in sports they’ve never even tried. So all you need is raw athletic talent. They help you, collaborate with you, and plan what your training is going to look like and how to prepare you for the Olympics. The rugby community in Canada isn’t very big, it’s tight-knit, so it’s been amazing to connect with national coaches through RBC Training Ground.
What does a day of training look like now?
I’m a student athlete, so my day is a combination of academics and athletics. I typically start my day around 7 a.m. to squeeze in extra time at the gym for conditioning or an extra lift. Afterwards my first class is at 12:30 p.m. and I’ll then do even more training after lunch, doing a mixture of skill and conditioning games to help my rugby IQ. After my second gym session, I’ll have another evening class. I end the day with dinner and a little decompressing and stretching to get ready for the next day.
How much closer do you feel to your Olympic goals?
I’ve seen a lot of physical and mental gains, and just gaining a lot more toughness over the years. I’m hitting physical benchmarks I set for myself, and to check the boxes feels great. I’ve always dreamed of going to the Olympics, but I also really want to leave my mark on the sport and to inspire the next generation of up-and-coming Canadian athletes. That would be the ultimate goal. I’m really grateful for RBC’s support in helping me get there.
What advice would you give younger athletes just starting out?
Try RBC Training Ground and just go for it! Even though it might be a bit daunting, and you might be scared of the unknown—push yourself. I would also put an emphasis on prioritizing your physical and mental health. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals and never be afraid to ask for help, because that’s something I had to learn myself. If you build a strong community around you, they’re there to help support and uplift you. Even when you think you have it all under control, it’s ok to just ask for help.
RBC Training Ground’s 2024 season is here, with free testing events across Canada to identify and fund future Olympians. For more information and to register for a qualifying event near you, click here. And don’t forget to follow @RBCTrainingGround on Instagram for updates and exclusive content.