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Rugby debutant Coimbra Cardoso shows power of Olympic dream

2018-05-22 09:39:00

Inspired to pursue a career in rugby after watching the sport make its return to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016, Brazilian teenager Eshyllen Coimbra Cardoso made her debut in the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series last weekend. And she believes her story can inspire other youngsters to pursue their dreams of sporting success.

The Rio ripple effect

The inclusion of rugby sevens on the Olympic programme at Rio 2016 had a massive impact, with the sport attracting new audiences and players around the world, and inspiring many youngsters to pick up a rugby ball. Not least in the host country of the 2016 Games. Isadora Cerullo, who played for Brazil at Rio 2016, says she has witnessed a big rise in quality on the pitch and interest off it, and that this is helping to create a truly sustainable legacy for the sport at grassroots level as well.

“Most of the people who watched the Olympics or who had even thought about rugby were probably invigorated by the Olympics,” said the Brazilian international ahead of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens tournament in Canada, in which Brazil did compete. “A huge proportion of the fans we have now had never heard of rugby before the Rio Olympics. The stadium was completely packed by the end of the rugby sevens tournament; everyone wanted a piece of the action. Afterwards a lot of girls were saying they wanted to be a part of this. We are reaping the benefits now.”

Eshyllen Coimbra Cardoso is a perfect example of the galvanising effect that the Games had on rugby in Brazil. She wasn’t a complete newcomer to the sport, having been involved in the Rugby Para Todos (Rugby for All) initiative on Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach. However, it was being able to watch the world’s best athletes in action during the Olympic Games that inspired her to take it more seriously.

Meteoric rise

Fast forward just 21 months and Coimbra Cardoso is part of the Brazil national team, preparing to make her international debut in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Canada. The 17-year-old, who grew up in a favela near Copacabana Beach, says rugby has changed her life, and she hopes her story will show other youngsters in Brazil that they can achieve anything with hard work and dedication.

“I started playing for fun, I’d never even heard of the word ‘rugby’ before,” she says. “I’d always played volleyball. I had two friends who started playing rugby and asked me to train with them, but I didn’t know what it was, so I thought: ‘I won’t go’. I’d always played indoor volleyball, but then I switched to beach volleyball and we trained next to a programme for kids’ rugby. So every day I would see people playing rugby, and one day I decided I would try it. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I just loved getting the ball and running with it. I started to learn more about the game through Rugby Para Todos, and when I was 13 I committed myself to rugby by joining the Guanabara club.

Inspired by the Olympic Games

“The Olympics inspired me even more because I went to the Games, and that made me think, ‘I want to be a part of this team’,” she reveals. “But I never thought it would happen so fast.” It is clear that, in rugby, Coimbra Cardoso has found a sport that chimes with her own sporting ideals. “What I love about rugby is the values. Even though the volleyball and rugby players trained on the same beach, for me it felt that when I stepped on the sand where rugby was being played, it was a different beach.”

“There are very clear values attached to playing rugby, not just the traditional values like passion, respect and integrity, but also humility and unity, that are ingrained in the sport and the way it is played. Rugby has changed my life.”

Living the dream

Coimbra Cardoso isn’t the first player to progress to the Brazilian national team via the Rugby Para Todos programme. However, her story, and the way she was touched by the Olympic Games, is one that will resonate for many kids in Brazil and elsewhere, and it is one she is keen to keep telling. “When I was selected in the squad for Canada I sent a message to the kids on the same social programme as me to say: ‘This is where I came from and look where I am now’. I told them: it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s not impossible to fulfil your dreams.”

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