Saturday July 17, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC
by Jalen Codrington | Island Social Trends
All eyes will be on Tokyo later this month as the Japanese capital hosts the Summer Olympic Games after a year-long postponement due to the global COVID pandemic.
Victoria’s own Camosun College will be represented on the world stage by bachelor of sport and fitness leadership student Julia Greenshields—a key member of the Canadian women’s national Rugby Sevens team.
“I don’t know if it’s hit me yet—I’m anxious and nervous and excited and focussed on training like we always do,” says Greenshields. “I think the reality of it all will set in when we’re all actually at the airport.”
Taking off for her first Olympics is a milestone moment representing years of high performance athletic training, focus, and teamwork. And the personal significance of the opportunity to travel and compete at the highest level is not lost on Greenshields.
Getting into rugby:
“It’s funny because I never had that Olympic dream, I didn’t play sports when I was growing up and neither did anyone in my family,” she explains. “When I was in high school in Sarnia, in Ontario, I heard about a class field trip to North Carolina and really wanted to go. I was told I had to play rugby, and I didn’t even know what that was, but I said ‘sign me up, let’s play rugby then’ because I really wanted to go to North Carolina!”
Julia started playing rugby at age 15. During her first game, she tackled a player with the ball and has been in love with the sport ever since. The decision set her on a course of both athletic and educational excellence, moving across the country from Ontario to BC to train with the national team in the milder climate and encouraging sports culture of Victoria. In 2018, she was a member of Canada’s Commonwealth team, which finished in fourth. Also in 2018 she was a part of the Rugby World Cup Sevens, and finished in seventh.
In 2019, Greenshields was again an offensive force for Canada, contributing 11 tries and helping Canada finish third in the overall Sevens Series standings. That secured Canada’s spot at Tokyo 2020.
Impact of the pandemic:
Then, in spring of last year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, rugby was put on hold, and Camosun College beckoned.
“When the pandemic happened, I thought, I really need to get back to school,” she says. “I need to focus on getting my education and preparing for what’s next in life, after rugby.”
In the shortened 2019-20 season, she played in every game for Canada as they repeated their overall third-place finish. Greenshields has more than 50 tries and 15 conversions in over 120 career Sevens Series matches.
When Greenshields arrives in Japan next week, she won’t be met by any cheering spectators in the stands, according to strict COVID-19 protocols recently announced by the Japanese government.
“One thing we prepare for when going into international competition is to anticipate that the crowd is going to be really really loud, and not letting that become a distraction, so it will be very interesting to be in a completely quiet stadium,” explains Greenshields. “What I’m most disappointed about is that my family won’t be able to come with me and be there to watch, but I do hope to continue and compete in the next Olympics in Paris and I’ve told them—you’re going to come and watch me play then!”
The Olympic dream:
After the Olympics, and when she completes her Camosun degree in three years’ time, Greenshields has big plans for her future.
“One day I hope to become a strength and conditioning coach, and perhaps coach young rugby players in the future,” she says. “I hope that the sport of rugby continues to grow and there are more teams and more players and I want to be part of supporting young athletes to achieve their dreams.”
Her advice to anyone pursuing an Olympic dream or wanting to train as a high performance athlete includes surrounding one’s self with people support and motivate you. “And most of all—show up. I tell myself that all the time when I’m tired and don’t want to get out of bed, ‘show up’ because as soon as I put my cleats on, and show up to training, things start to fall into place. I’ve never regretted being there, I’ve never regretted showing up for training—I just keep riding that wave every day.”
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics is set to begin on July 23, 2021.