Have boots will travel really describes this rugger.
Nia Williams is one of those ruggers who loves to play! Doesn’t matter when, or where, she’s game. Of the ladies we’ve interviewed so far for this series, Williams is the who has been on the move the most.
Williams has played for the San Diego Surfers (a women’s power in both the Women’s Primer League (WPL) and 7s), and this past summer she played with the new Life West women’s side (which made a run at nationals).
However William’s rugby career began just after her 18th birthday when she started at Eastern Illinois University. So we asked Williams how did she end up in California? Williams shares “I played three semesters at Eastern Illinois, and during the summer going into my sophomore year, I found Chicago North Shore. I played that summer with them and went on to play with them at Nationals for the Club 7s. After the first semester of my sophomore year at Eastern Illinois, I moved to San Diego where I went on to play for the Surfers for two sevens season and one WLP 15s season. I played with Life West (Chiropractic) this past summer and that was simply because it was a better opportunity for me personally for schooling and for just playing under a new coaching and style of rugby”.
It was playing at the Club 7s Nationals with Chicago North Shore after her freshman year that Williams says she came to the attention of the Eagles and the Olympic Training Center (OTC). Unfortunately that moment was marred as after going to nationals and getting some attention Williams learned that she had a partially torn ACL and from there she says “there began a three year uphill battle before ever getting to call myself and Eagle and full-time Olympic hopeful”.
Williams did make it to the OTC and was able to become a resident in the program. She says that life is much different than before by being able to train full-time and devote all her energy and training to rugby. “I wouldn’t say easier but there are simple different struggles. At this level most everything is provided for you; food, schedules, training cloths, etc. So the mental toughness is more key than before. Being mentally switched on, mentally day in and day out pushing yourself even when you feel like you cannot go anymore” notes Williams.
There is a heavy workload for residents at the OTC Nia points out “for me before being at the OTC, my training sessions were almost always alone, passing, sprints, lifting. Now, virtually all my training's is with my teammates, coaches, staff members and its very different”. The mental game is the area that Williams really hits on, and states “Mentally pushing yourself while you are alone and mentally pushing yourself with a group of elite level athlete around are two very different mental spaces to be in. All in all, I think for me that’s the big difference in training at this level”.
While the resident program which allows the Olympic hopeful ruggers to train full-time at the OTC is appealing and can help promote the game Williams believes that people would still be working toward getting to the Olympics even if there wasn’t’ this program. Williams points out “The Olympics are the ultimate test of an athlete and their abilities, there is nothing higher than the Olympics. Personally as an athlete that is a huge driving force and motivation in perusing the Olympic dream”. Now Williams thinks if the resident program stays and girls in the future have an option to train at the OTC to chase the Olympic dream then more may play. “Again the Olympics are the pinnacle of being an athlete” says Williams. She believes that athletes want to be tested against the greatest athletes in the world. Having an opportunity to play at a higher level can be life changing for some according to Williams. She says, “With rugby being an Olympic sport and being able to train fulltime at the Olympic training center is something that will motivate and inspire may to pursue the sport that we all love”.
Now, Williams has trained and played at a high level (WPL, National Level 7s and the Eagles) and is continuing to make sacrifices to get to Rio. Williams said her ultimate goal from playing rugby is to simply give back. “I want to give back to the sport that has given me so much. Some use a ink on paper to express themselves to the world. Some use instruments to express themselves to the work. I use rugby,” proclaims Williams. Williams explains “when I am on the grass, when I run hard, pass, tackle, I do it with every fiber of my being. I do it with passion and I do it to express myself to the world”. Williams tries to give back by setting the example for others, by being humble, using relationships she has build through her journey. Williams also honed in a bit on relationships and that through the process of building relationships people can learn so many things and get access to tons of rugby resources, camps, skills and simply knowledge of the game. “I try to do for others the same way so many people did for me. My success is greatly due to my coaches, teammates, and every opponent over the years” says Williams. Rugby is relationships!
Rugby and those relationships have had a significant impact on her life. Rugby given life to William’s Olympic dreams again. Growing up Williams had dreamed of playing basketball professionally and to also play for team USA. For Williams, rugby has embodied everything that she values such as one big culture, passion, heart, character and of course sports. Williams says, “Rugby is symbolic of my life story and where I come from. This sport has taught me resilience and how to push myself further than I even thought humanly possible”.
“I do think more girls should take up the game because it teaches more than what other sports can teach,” explains Williams. “There is something so special and different about a contact sport where you put your body in harms way for teammates” states Williams. She feels it one thing to play team sports such as soccer or basketball, but what makes rugby special for women is the contact aspect of it because it created a specific bond.
Throughout our interview Williams kept going back to the goal of making it to the Olympics and to earn a medal. That is a key focus in her personal rugby journey. For Williams that thought of becoming a Olympic medalist dominates her mind. There is not much else she says in sports that comes close to being an Olympic medal winner! While she says the World Cup is big in its own right, for her the Olympics are “Bigger”.
We thank Williams for her time, and also for her passion. We all as rugger appreciate her passion. As supporters of Team USA we love that drive. We wish Nia the best in her run for Rio! Up next Nathalie Marchino, but that story will have a twist.