Running To A Rio Rugby Dream: Part III

Catch Her If You Can…with 60 Tries in the HSBC Women’s Sevens World Series its likely most don’t.

Victoria "Vix" Folayan,  USA Eagles 7s

Victoria "Vix" Folayan,  USA Eagles 7s

So who is this speedster racking up the points for the Eagles? She is Victoria Folayan, known to peers as “Vix”.  Vix became a full-time Resident with the Olympic Training Center  (OTC) and USA Rugby in 2013 but has been with the Eagles squad before that. Before taking up rugby full time as a contracted player she was a teaching math and science for Oakland Unified, in Oakland, CA while being a part of USA Rugby's Women's 15s side. 

Vix came to rugby with a well rounded athletic background having run cross country, played basketball, football and a tennis. However she did not go to Stanford University with the plan to play rugby. As with so many ruggers it was just by chance that she took up rugby.

Vix said “Before Stanford I had absolutely no idea what rugby was. I was introduced to rugby during my prospective freshman trip, but had plans to (and did) join the Track and Field Team. After a few twists and turns in the game of life I ended up trying rugby. I can say that the team at the time was incredibly persistent, energetic, and enthusiastic about rugby and I fit into their game!”

You’ll see a pattern here of how many have gotten into rugby in college which is great, just think how much fun kids could have if they are playing rugby as well as other sports growing up, but we digress.

Vix came to the attention of USA Rugby early on and she attributes her involvement in the team to the legendary rugby coach Kathy Flores (currently heading up Brown University’s program).  Vix says “I have to say I was extremely fortunate to have been coached by Coach Flores, who at the time was also the USA Women’s 15s Head Coach”.  A reflective Vix then says “Yeah…I was very fortunate…she got a chance to see me train, and play, and she saw potential in me. I credit my first steps in the USA Rugby national team pool to her”.

There are huge benefits to being a part of the national team, but until recently with the resident programs players came together for short periods throughout the year to train just before competition, but having players under contract and to have access to train together all year seems to be beneficial to the players and the team.  As mentioned Vix became a resident athlete at the OTC in 2013.  “I can say the greatest shift I have experienced as a resident athlete is learning and developing what it means to be a professional rugby player and athlete” notes Vix. 

High level and organized college programs can provide the support and structure but even then you still have school and other obligations that being a professional doesn’t have. According to Vix being able to focus every single day with just the goal for training and becoming a better player and having the resources, support and expertise of an OTC are critical. Rugby however isn’t individual but a team game. One of the barriers for USA Rugby in the past was the players didn’t have extensive training periods together. Having the opportunity to be with other residents and athletes who are working toward the same goal and having things dedicated to your sport does send the message of “be better today than yesterday”. 

Vix’s take on the work she does at the OTC is that it is a team effort. “We are always working hard to be the best at the center, and I’ve learned that collaboration and communication is incredibility important. ‘We’ is not just myself and rugby, it extends to Team USA. I now not only represent myself, but something more. Accepting such a responsibility has been critical to my growth as a person” said Vix. For her its not just putting forth a great effort that she’s gained at the OTC and Team USA, but to take those skills and lessons learned to life its self.

Vix was a teacher in the Bay Area (as we noted earlier) where she worked, lived, and also played rugby with the Berkeley All Blues. The OTC in Chula Vista is quite a ways from the Bay, so we wondered how that impacted her. She  had sung praise of the OTC (which we don’t doubt), but there has to be a trade off. So we asked Vix about the trade off.  Vix with some humor starts with “Can I plead the fifth?” and then goes on to with “Just kidding. I get incredibly homesick every now and then. I am lucky because my family and friends are just a short flight away, but yeah----I miss them.” Vix noted though “Honestly, though, I ultimately choose to come to the center, and so I make the most of the experience here. Plus I know friends and family are rooting for me… and I’m not going to let them down”.  Vix also has a few of her teammates from the All Blues on the team and a few who are also residents at the OTC, so shes got some good company (come on you’d you rather hang with fellow ruggers or your other friends).

Prior to the addition of the Rugby to the Summer Olympics in 2009 Vix says she was solely a 15s player with the focus on the World Cup (15s).  It wasn’t until after that World Cup,  Vix says that she really started to pay attention to the implications of the 7s game being in the Olympics and that’s when she really got interested. “I have wanted to go to the Olympics since I was a  litter girl, and I felt that 7s played to my strengths, so it was a win win”! 

The addition of the 7s allowed there to be some additional focus and support for the 7s program and really it was the Olympic factor that opened up the residency program for ruggers. Vix acknowledge this and said “Prior to the residency the main challenge was finding the time and finance to support my rugby ‘hobby’”.  There were challenges for players to train or play at that level before. “I remember I made this promotional binder of myself and the team, trying to fund-raise for a tour to Hong Kong. I literally just started talking to people in coffee shops and farmers markets, asking if they’d like to support me and the team. It was work, but it was worth it” recalled Vix. Now days that is handled by USA Rugby and Team USA and Vix and the other ruggers and residents can just focus on training and getting better together.

We had asked Vix a few more questions about how rugby had benefited her and how it can benefit other girls, growing the game and just the work that comes with trying to be Olympian. Vix said she wanted to answer a group of our questions in a “Bucket” form.   We agreed that it would likely get the message across better than a Q&A, so this is Vix final take for this interview.

Vix shared the following “Throughout this journey I have learned to do things that make me happy. I think everything happened for a reason---and feel it stronger and stronger every day. Rugby has taught me to take things with the flow, cherish relationships and friends, and be better. I think getting an opportunity to play in the Olympics would be a dream come true. It’s a dream that has turned into a goal, and like I taught my kids (students) I made a plan and I do my best to stick to it. They (the students) got an opportunity to see bits of my love for the sport, on the recess pitch at lunch and what not—but at that time creating a team/program was not in my capabilities. I did recently find out a couple of my former students now play for a local team, so that’s great! In the end, in my head, I’m not competing for a spot on the Olympic team, that’s too much pressure for me to hold on. I’m playing a sport I love, for the love of the game, that’s it”.

We want to thank Vix for taking the time to chat with us and share her insights and humor. A great lesson for any new ruggers out there is to not play the game because you want a medal, you want fame, you want whatever you think rugby is going to give you but play as Vix says because it is rugby and because you love playing.

Vix was generous with her time which we appreciate , as she is busy with training, travel and playing so we are grateful of her time. We  also want to thank the ladies at her home club who were able to put us into contact with Vix.  Stay tuned as our next featured player will be Nia Williams who played most recently with Life West. 

Photo: Team USA 2013 (Dubai). Vix vs Fiji 

Photo: Team USA 2013 (Dubai). Vix vs Fiji