Running To A Rio Rugby Dream: Part II

Olympian Seeking The Olympics. Sounds like a classified. 

All of the ladies vying for a spot on the Team USA Rugby 7s team are aiming for their first Olympics, well nearly all. There is one who already has the title of Olympian and that rugger is Emily Azevedo!  Azevedo has a great story on the path she’s taken to bring her to this point!

The former high school track star from Chico, California used those skills to land her at UC Davis, where she was a member of the Aggies track team there running the 100m hurdles. Watching the winter Olympics, Azevedo became intrigued by the bobsled events and the next thing you know (it wasn’t that easy it was years of hard work and training), she made the USA team and competed in the two women bobsled event competition in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. She finished an impressive 5th at the games. Azevedo has medaled a few times in the world championships for Bobsledding.  So how is she now in line for 2016 Summer Games in Rio and for Rugby???

Getty Images. Azevedo at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. 

Getty Images. Azevedo at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. 

Told you this is a good journey. Azevedo only took up rugby a year and a half ago! She has played with the Berkley All Blues and this past summer she played 7s with a successful San Diego Surfers side.

How she came to the game of rugby is not unlike many of us, by chance. Azevedo told us “I was on vacation with some friends in Hungary. A girl approached me at the gym and asked me to come play touch rugby with her and her team. I immediately fell in love with the people I met out there and knew when I moved back to the Bay Area I wanted to find a team to play for”.

When Azevedo retired from bobsledding in 2014 she sought out rugby as just a way to meet some new friends and to just have fun.  She ended up with the All Blues and played with them that summer (2014) and trained with them in the fall before she moved to the OTC in the spring. Once she was in San Diego and training at the OTC she knew she needed to get game experience and so this past summer (2015) she played 7s for the San Diego Surfers.

We asked Azevedo if her experience as an Olympian would be used by the team. Azevedo pointed out that there hasn’t been women’s rugby 7s in the Olympics before so there are a lot of unknowns for the team and for USA Rugby. “Because of the Olympic experience I have had I am able to share with the girls what to expect and to help them all in preparing for Rio” noted Azevedo.

Azevedo comes to the team preparing at the OTC having had professional support in terms of coaching, training facilities, etc as a bobsledder. She is also in the Resident program at the OTC in Chula Vista for rugby and so we asked how much of a boost is that in preparing the team as she has some great perspective from her pervious stints with Team USA.  Azevedo said “Throughout my bobsled career I lived at a training center… for about 8 years. The resources that the OTC is able to provide do help athletes compete at the top level”.  She also pointed out “Although there is still a huge financial sacrifice for the athletes the training center helps to curb the cost of food, sports medicine and training facilities. It allows us to be able to train for rugby fulltime with is valuable for many of the athletes we have that have not grown up playing rugby”.

Azevedo in training at the OTC in Chula Vista with USA Rugby. 

Azevedo in training at the OTC in Chula Vista with USA Rugby. 

Azevedo points out that without the resources of USA Rugby and the resident program at the OTC most would have a hard time training full time.  “Many athletes are able to be successful without the training center resources, but may have to be more creative with how they are able to train and fund their daily lives” shared Azevedo. She also highlighted that the OTC allows the USA Rugby 7s athletes the opportunity to train fulltime as a team, which should yield a competitive advantage.

Rugby we know provides life longs bonds. Now part of team (at least successful teams) preparation is  a form of bonding, but on the same handand in the case of these athletes like Azevedo they are training together and competing with each other for a limited number of spots. We want to know how that is handled?  Azevedo said, “I think I come from a different perspective because I have gone to the Olympics and had through that I was done as an athlete”.  Azevedo goes on to say, “I would love to make another Olympic team, but the most important part of this journey for me is the friendships and the bonds. I think that we are able to continue to maintain a team atmosphere and we ALL realized that if we are selected or not we are all a valuable part of the process and the team”!

Azevedo is always working to give back to the kids and she has used her work with the Boys and Girls Club to do that work. While she participates in a variety of activities for the kids at the Boys and Girls Club she also tries to expose them to the game of rugby.  Azevedo said “I bring a rugby ball with me and try to get the kids up and running around and just having some fun. The more important thing to me about rugby is to have fun, so I try and show the kids how fun rugby can be and maybe someday they will want to try and play”.  Now that’s a solid strategy that Azevedo is employing so those of you who work with kids or volunteer, try this! We all can help grow the game.

We have seen the growth of the game in resent years and especially with youth and girls and we asked Azevedo her take on the growth of rugby. “It is exciting to see rugby grow especially for girls in American” share Azevedo “and I think the Olympics will be a huge platform to expose young women to the sport”. Azevedo continued saying “The thing I love about rugby is it is a very inclusive sport and literally everyone can find a place to fit into. I think many young women will find this attractive about rugby”.

As we learned more about Azevedo we realized that she’s spend most her adult life after college training and living at training center which is great for training but as noted not lucrative. We asked Azevedo about that and she explained “I have been an elite athlete for close to ten years now. I began bobsled right out of college in 2006. I graduated from UD Davis with a degree in Exercise Biology. I originally had hoped to be a strength coach, but after living it for so many years I have recently started applying to law schools and hope to pursue law next fall.

We want to thank the San Diego Surfers and the Berkeley All Blues for connecting to Emily Azevedo, and to Emily for her time.  Azevedo’s story is unique but doesn’t vary from that of most successful ruggers which is finding the game my chance, falling in love with it and then dedicating all your effort to getting better at it. You can follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyAzevedo.  

Up next will be Victoria “Vix” Folayan for Part III of the Run to Rio series.