This is our latest in our series of profiling women rugby players seeking a spot and a medal in the 2016 RIO Olympics who also have California ties. This particular rugby player is 100% California, born in the golden state and raised here in the golden state. She also plays like a beast!
There are a number of words you can use to describe Joanne (Nana) Fa’avesi; rugger, beast, winner, Eagle! For Nana (as she is know by most) rugby is in her blood. She is of Tongan descent and has family who have all played rugby. She is also a winner! You have to be a winner to be in the USA Eagles pool. You have to be a winner to be a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). You have to be a winner to play for the Stars 7s, and you have to be a winner to play for club national championship.
Nana has played with the Sacramento Amazons (where in 2014 her team lost in the D2 National Championship game in Madison, Wisconsin). She’s also played for the Berkeley All Blues, the USA -20s, the Stars 7s (touring side), and now the USA Eagles 7s.
Nana will tell you though its not been an easy journey, as its required a great deal of commitment from her to get to this point and she’s taking advantage of all the opportunities. She has put career and school aside to focus full-time on rugby and becoming an Olympian , but Nana does have aspirations off the pitch too, including becoming Phlebotomist or a Mortician. Not surprising for a rugby player to be interested in a career drawing blood, or putting bodies away.
Below is our interview with Sacramento's Nana Fa’avesi.
The Rugby Republic (RR): At what age did you start playing rugby?
Nana Fa’avesi (NF): I started to play rugby around 15. I took up the game when I was a freshman at Luther Burbank High School (Sacramento). I played all through high school with the exception of my junior year.
RR: You started earlier than most, but do you think if you’d started even sooner it would even help your game more?
NF: I honestly think if I had started playing even sooner it would have defiantly helped with my game today.
RR: You grew up and played rugby in Sacramento. There is a very robust rugby community in Sac (youth, high school, clubs) how do you think having the opportunity to compete regularly and versus quality players and programs helped your development?
NF: Having the opportunity to play at a young age and against some good teams was very helpful because it made me want to get better as a player and made my team want to improve as a whole. Starting something young helps you build a deeper passion and appreciation for the sport.
RR: Let’s talk a bit about that work. You played with the powerhouse Sacramento Amazons and that's how you came to national attention, but can you share the amount of work/training you had to put into to be successful and maybe some sacrifices that you had to make to get to the level of player you are today?
NF: The training was hard. But my coach instilled it in us and told us that if the entire team didn't work hard then it was pointless. My team pushed me to the limit and we had a bond that can't be duplicated. I had to get out of my comfort zone first. I have sacrificed things I enjoyed doing on my extra time…. Sleep! Family time…friendships and work in order to become a better player to perform at a higher level.
RR: So when as a freshman you decided to play rugby what was your family's reaction?
NF: My father was a rugby player and rugby coach. Some of my siblings play rugby. So rugby wasn’t new, I’d been around it. I was the youngest of the family and I come from a very athletic family so I actually had all the support I needed, which was great!
RR: So lets skip a bit. How did you come to play with the Stars Rugby 7s and how long have you been involved with them?
NF: I wanted to play further then just the states. I wanted to get out and get more experience and get seen. So I applied to play with the Stars in 2014. I didn't make the team initially. So I sent in my highlight video and that time I got my spot on the team to play at the Canada Stampede 7's tournament. Rugby allows you to travel and the Stars always travel and play high level 7s.
RR: So you got seen at some point (via your club work, U-20s, Stars, etc). What was your feeling or reaction when you were offered an opportunity to join the team at the OTC in Chula Vista?
NF: It was a feeling or relief and gratefulness to get to become a resident athlete at the OTC. I felt all I have done (the work and the sacrifices) had paid off! I was so thankful to God, my family and the never ending support from back home. I knew now this is where the real work begins.
RR: Has it been your goal to play in the Olympics or did that come with getting picked up by USA Rugby?
NF: I honestly never imagined playing in the Olympics. I’m a positive person, but never thought it was possible. I didn't even know we had a Women's national team at first. I just loved playing rugby. So once I was able to play with the USA Under 20's team for the Nation's Cup I realized wanted more. I realized that rugby had so much to offer me if I was going to do the work.
RR: What has been the best part of being able to train and prepare at the OTC?
NF: The best part would have to be training with a group of women who all share the same dream and are willing to work hard for each other. Like my first coach said if the we all don’t do the work then it is pointless. We all are working hard. For me just having the opportunity to be here is a blessing.
RR: Do you have a preference in terms of playing 7s or 15s?
NF: I started by playing 15's and I share a special love with 15's, but 7's brings out a different beast in me. My focus for now is 7s with the team and the Olympics.
RR: You said rugby has so much to offer. How has playing rugby benefited your life? How has it changed your life?
NF: Rugby has benefited my life in so many ways. I have learned how to pull my own weight and be consistent. I have built bonds through hard work and dedication with teammates. I have learned how to have fun while working hard. Even at times when I’ve been it injured has taught me patience and to trust God's plan and trust the recovery. Rugby has changed my life by taking my dreams to another level and closer to making it reality.
RR: So why should young girls tryout rugby?
NF: Girls should tryout rugby because the rugby community is like no other sport. The friends you make are forever! And the lessons you learn will keep you humble.
RR: What are your plans post Olympics?
NF: My plans post Olympics is to attend school or find a job while still training to possibly make the 15's World Cup team in 2017 and then hopefully the 7's World cup team in 2018 here in NorCal (San Francisco).
First we want to thank Nana for her time in granting this interview. Nana is truly the Beast Mode of the women’s Eagles team. Don't believe us watch her play! She is also one of the younger players, and so she very likely will be in the mix for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017 and the 2018 7s World Cup right here in the golden state. Nana’s skills and style of play are recognized by her fellow Eagles, as it was them who really encouraged us to get in touch with her (specially Irene Gardner). Nana’s journey so far teaches us that if you have a dream, chase it with hard work and commitment and you might get what you want. We hope for her to not only be in Rio this summer, but to end the games with the rest of the Eagles on the top step of the podium. You can follow Nana's on twitter @nanafaavesi92.