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Fast Friends

Fast Friends

Rugby is a game of infinite connections, both on and off the pitch. Those who love the game not only embrace it for its requisite athleticism, but the community and inclusivity that surrounds it. No other sport culture celebrates diversity quite like rugby.

For a player, the sport is only part of the draw.

This rang true for Lexie Tynan and Monty Heald, players and enthusiasts who knew exactly where to look for friends after immigrating to a new country: the rugby clubhouse.

Lexie moved from Dublin, Ireland to Burlington, Canada in 1985 with his wife and four young kids in tow. His Canadian wife’s extended family welcomed him when he arrived, but Lexie still yearned to build a new life for himself in his newly-adopted homeland — at the ripe age of 52.

Fortunately, rugby had been teaching Lexie how to make connections from a young age. As an only child, his stints on teams like Belvedere RFC in Dublin found him making lifelong friends who became family to him. So right after landing in Canada, Lexie marched himself down to the Burlington Centaurs RFC and joined the club.

One of the first people he met was Monty Heald. Their mutual passion for rugby was matched only by their love of a dirty joke. They became fast friends.

Monty immigrated to Canada from the UK in 1968, leaving behind a record-breaking legacy as a player with Derby, Greengarth and Ashbourne RFCs. Captaining clubs was almost like a hobby for Monty so it was no surprise when he co-founded The Burlington Centaurs RFC in 1973 and became the club’s first Captain. His legacy is one of leadership — rallying folks together to first form the club, then build a clubhouse, and finally plant the pitch for the Centaurs.

Monty and Lexie were built from the same cloth. Their equal love of the sport led them to be deeply involved with rugby both at their own club, as well as coaches in the local community, at high schools, and as selectors for the Canadian national team program. They wanted to introduce rugby to as many people they could — after all, it had brought them both a sense of belonging that only a community can.

But there was a snag.

Coming from established rugby nations, “the lads” discovered that Canada was a fledgling rugby country. They wanted to help grow the sport but getting their hands on balls, boots, and other training equipment was fraught with challenges. The solution? They simply started importing gear themselves.

As word got out that coveted Gilbert Barbarians kit or a solid pair of mid-cuts could be procured from Monty or Lexie  — usually out of the trunk of a car — the ‘side hustle’ quickly turned into something bigger.

In 1988, Monilex was born.

In the ensuing years, Monilex became a constant supporter of the growth of the game in Canada. They became the Canadian distributor for Gilbert equipment and supported clubs across the nation with practice gear.

Monty served as the President of Rugby Canada from 1991-1999, and became a lifetime member of Rugby Canada in 2013. Monty was also a Champion of the women’s game from the early days. This led to the creation of The Monty Heald Fund, a bursary aimed at eliminating ‘pay to play’ for the Canadian national women’s team, elevating them to compete globally.

Over the years, Monty and Lexie never missed an opportunity to travel every four years to the Rugby World Cup. Disguised as important ‘business research’, these trips kept the lads connected to the global rugby stage — a place that continued to be part of their community.

It reinforced their belief that you can always find a friend in the rugby clubhouse.

by Patrick Brealey