By Mark Colley
Olivia de Couvreur had been around the world and back again — including a 34-hour trip from Cape Town, South Africa, to Victoria, B.C., via Amsterdam and Calgary — but her voice was peppy when she spoke over the phone just 20 hours after finally returning home.
De Couvreur, 22, had been in South Africa for the rugby sevens World Cup from Sept. 9-11, where Canada finished sixth after a 10-7 quarterfinal loss to the United States. She entered the tournament not expecting to play, only to end up scoring a game-winning try.
De Couvreur said it was “shocking and disappointing” when she learned she would be on Canada’s travelling reserve, rather the active roster, entering the tournament.
“I went through a variety of emotions,” de Couvreur said. “It was interesting feeling the emotions that I had of insecurities and embarrassment for myself.”
She packed for South Africa with the intentions of doing anything the team needed, including getting water or organizing the locker room. But just days before the tournament began, she received news that veteran Bianca Farella couldn’t play.
“It was hard initially to feel happy for myself … [I had] a little bit of guilt, too, for feeling happy,” she said. “I feel like I had a little bit of imposter’s syndrome.”
De Couvreur spoke with her coaches and watched back some of her career highlights to regain her confidence. Playing the last five minutes of Canada’s opening game helped get the nerves out.
Then de Couvreur took off. She played all of the quarterfinal match against the US, then scored both the tying and game-winning tries in the placement semifinal match. While the team feels “shame” for finishing sixth, she said it’s “just something that we need to digest and then move on from and learn from.”
While de Couvreur’s experience at the World Cup was a rollercoaster, so too is her rugby career. She played soccer from early childhood to Grade 11, when a bad coach and desire to pursue passions outside of sports took over. She took up photography.
But during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, de Couvreur started watching rugby. She had only touched a rugby ball once in her life, when her soccer team kicked one around at practice, but she became enamored with the sport.
“Seeing how intense it is, how high-pace, and everything requires so much accuracy, and just the high-stakes of it all,” de Couvreur said, adding that she was often fouled for playing too aggressively in soccer. “It was just extremely empowering seeing women at that level playing with so much aggression.”
She fell back in love with sports, and less than a year after joining her first rugby team at Sir Wilfred Laurier Secondary School in the fall of 2016, de Couvreur moved to Victoria for the Rugby Canada development academy.
She credits her parents for having the confidence in her to make the move.
“Honestly, it’s kind of crazy thinking back on it. It was such a quick endeavor,” she said. “I just adapted quickly – I think that’s something I’m really good at.”
Picked up as her hobby when she thought she was taking a step back from sports, de Couvreur now hopes to get back into photography, in addition to her other hobbies of painting water colours and acrylic, and hiking.
She might not have much time. She’s starting her undergrad in biology at the University of Victoria this month, which she said she already has to catch up on after missing classes due to the World Cup.
De Couvreur’s aunt is a nurse, which is part of the reason why she is studying biology.
“Even when I was in Grade 2, I knew that I wanted to be an obstetrician,” she joked.
For now, though, de Couvreur is recovering from the jet lag of 34 hours spent traveling between South Africa and British Columbia.
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