Athlete Ambassador Bianca Farella
Introducing GIST Athlete Ambassador Bianca Farella!
When Bianca isn’t winning Olympic bronze medals and national tournaments with Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team, you can find her eating some chocolate and binge-watching Brooklyn 99. Relatable. These days, however, Bianca doesn’t have much (read: any) spare time as she’s preparing to win the gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. So, we were super grateful that Bianca took the time to sit down with us.
Let’s get to our interview with this rugby queen:
Ellen at The GIST (TG): To start, how did you first get into rugby? It’s not necessarily one of the traditional mainstream sports in Canada yet.
Bianca Farella (BF): I first started playing rugby at school when I was 13 years old. At the time, I think rugby was the only spring sport in our school other than, weirdly, doubles tennis. I had tried tennis before and I was never really very good with the racquet/stick/club sports. I was definitely better at hand-on-ball sports. I had this really good friend at the time who was from New Zealand, and she convinced me to go play rugby with her. I went to the first couple of practices and then stuck with it all through high school. Eventually I learned that playing on the wing was a good spot for me because of my natural speed. I think what really drew me to love rugby was the team atmosphere.
TG: The team atmosphere and community is a really interesting aspect of the sport. Even the community and respect amongst competitors is huge in rugby. Can you speak to that?
BF: Yeah, definitely one of the reasons why I love to play is that community atmosphere. I don’t know if that community mindset is rooted in the nature of the sport itself — where everyone is working together in a line and in this system of support to back each other up — but I especially felt that community with my club team in Montreal the Town of Mount Royal Rugby Football Club (RFC). We always hosted the visiting side in our clubhouse after the game, and gave a drink to the Woman of the Match, and we thanked them all for coming.
I can’t really tell you where that started. I mean, it goes back to the rugby roots, but not sure if it’s because it’s a newer sport in Canada and there’s this appreciation toward each other like, “I’ll host you because you travelled all this way, and you’ll host us when we come.” There’s just a real respect for one another. It’s really not like any other sport in that aspect. It’s great.
TG: That’s so interesting and so unlike many other sports. What’s your favourite memory competing in rugby?
BF: I would say my favourite memory is playing with the Under-19 Quebec rugby team. We were just all really connected and had a great time travelling together, laughing, making memories. We travelled to Calgary for the national championships where we were definitely the underdog. We weren’t expected to win, but we were having a good time, and we’d show up to games just singing and carrying on. We were a bit annoying *Bianca chuckles*. BUT, we ended up winning that tournament! It wasn’t just the winning that makes it stand out though, it was the whole trip with us coming together and the camaraderie of it all.
TG: That’s awesome. That was when you were still playing 15s, correct?
BF: Yeah, that was 15s. I started playing sevens in 2012. (Editor’s note: 15s is the original, “traditional” rugby comprised of 15 players per team, playing 40-minute halves. Sevens aka seven-a-side rugby is a faster, more modern variant of the sport with only seven players playing seven minute halves).
TG: Gotcha. Do you want to dive in on why you made the switch from 15s to sevens?
BF: Sure! Generally in Canada, athletes start by playing 15s which is what I did. To my knowledge, it was the only rugby program available in my city. Then, it was announced that sevens were going to become an Olympic sport in 2016, and that really sparked interest across the country, and ignited a lot of sevens programs to start. It really created this new dream for Canadians to be able to play rugby at the Olympics. (Editor’s note: The 2016 Rio Olympic Games was the debut of rugby sevens, and the first time women’s rugby was included as an Olympic sport. Previously, up until 1924, only the men’s 15s were an Olympic sport.)
At that time, I was playing 15s and was asked to move to Victoria to train to play sevens nationally. I declined because I didn’t feel ready yet to pick up and move. I was really young so I played another year of 15s, and played my first year at university.
But, after getting a taste of sevens and playing it a couple of times, I was really interested in it. Sevens is for faster and more powerful players. There’s a lot of space out there, so everyone who plays it has to be so quick, and it’s super challenging. So, in 2012 I got the invite again to train with the sevens national team, and this time I said, “yes, let’s do it!” I moved to Victoria in January 2013 and started training with the national team. It was like I got to fall in love with a new sport.
TG: That’s awesome and must have been an incredible feeling. You mentioned that you were in school for some of your rugby career. How have you been able to balance education and rugby throughout your life?
BF: I grew up playing while going to school in Montreal, so I was always a student-athlete taking full-time classes and balancing around my practice and game schedules. So then when I went to Concordia University, I already had that routine of balancing school and rugby.
When I moved to Victoria to train with the national team, I decided to take a break from school to make sure I had a handle on training as an athlete full-time. I needed to make sure I was able to focus on getting a better sense of my body and its limits, and I didn’t want my education to suffer as a result. It took a couple of years to do that, but once I got adjusted, I decided to go back to school part-time and only take on as much as I could handle. I’m slowly working toward my degree at the University of Victoria where I transferred all of my credits from Concordia. I have about three semesters left. I’m so close!
TG: That’s super impressive to balance, and very impressive you’re so close!
TG: So, what’s your favourite thing about rugby?
BF: Oh! I love the feeling when the ball is in my hand and I’m able to manipulate a defender and draw them towards me and then pass the ball out to someone else who is free and they can hit the open gap. I just love the subtlety and small manipulation of making a defender think I’m taking the ball in and then passing out to a teammate to set them up. Outside of that, overall, the social, community aspect we talked about earlier is my favourite part.
TG: A lot of people get into rugby later in life as opposed to other sports that kids are put into at a very young age. What resources are there for people to learn about rugby?
BF: Because of that exposure the Olympics gave rugby sevens, there are now clubs in major cities across Canada with junior programs, I think they call it mini rugby (Editor’s note: adorable!). It starts out with flag rugby similar to football, where instead of tackling, you rip a flag off of someone’s cute little belt. So there are those resources and programs that are growing slowly. Through quick research, you can find multiple clubs, now more than ever with junior rugby programs. It’s really great.
TG: So awesome that it’s growing so much! Rugby is a super physical game. How do you rest and recover to take care of your body and mind?
BF: Each night during a tournament after competing, we take an ice bath as soon as we get back to the hotel, then eat and get as much sleep as we can. The next day will either be a super early flight or super early game the next game. Usually in a tournament, we play three games on Day 1 and three games on Day 2. Since you’re trying to get your body to peak three times in a day, you just try to go through proper recovery to bring yourself down to recover and then bring yourself back up for each game.
I like to get the proper nutrition in, carbs and protein, because we play basically every three hours so that’s all we can really do. I’ll wear compression tights between the games for blood flow and for managing swelling from any knocks.
If I’m getting too amped, I will do some meditative breathing to relax. I’m fortunate enough to have access to sports scientists and different resources.
TG: We need to take a page out of your book on that meditative breathing! Speaking of getting too amped, something that gets us a little fiery is that young girls drop out of sport at double the rate of their male counterparts by the age of 14. How do you think we can combat this?
BF: I think it comes down to the support that women get. I was personally always motivated by sports and wanted to play competitively, and that was encouraged. But there also needs to be encouragement for girls who just want to play, and not necessarily want to pursue it competitively. That’s okay, too.
And as teachers, friends, family, we should be encouraging girls to just be awesome and play sports because they can.
We need to eliminate the stigma around girls playing sports. We should just want girls to be healthy and active and in sport for longer.
TG: Awesome stuff. Now, let’s get into the fun, rapid fire questions!
TG: What’s your favourite show on Netflix right now?
BF: I’m binge-watching Brooklyn 99 right now.
TG: If you weren’t playing rugby, what would you be doing?
BF: I would probably still be in school trying to figure that out. But I would probably be playing a different sport. I played some basketball prior to playing rugby, so hopefully would still find another sport.
TG: If you could be a character from Harry Potter or Game of Thrones who would you be?
BF: Oh, I would be Hermione. I love that she is a badass and super booksmart, and ready to throw down. I’d like to see myself in that. My favourite character in Game Of Thrones is Khaleesi. The first seven seasons, she was fighting for what she believes in and fighting for equality. She was trusting in herself more than anything, even though she had people that advised her. At the end of season 8, still a big fan of her…(*Editor’s note: spoilers ahead!) but as fans, we deserved more than her quick demise into the daughter of the mad-king storyline. I’m just choosing to ignore that part of her story. *Bianca laughs*
TG: What are you most excited for in 2019?
BF: I am excited to just get the proper mental and physical rest from the season we just had, and to start next season fully charged and ready to go.
I want to stay level-headed and peak at the right time as the ultimate goal is to win the Olympics next summer.
TG: What’s your guilty pleasure?
BF: I’m a sucker for chocolate. Also just sitting on the couch all day and doing nothing.
TG: What’s one healthy habit you have that anyone should insert into their life?
BF: Eat breakfast every morning. That’s a big one for me, I can’t leave the house without eating breakfast. I normally have 3-4 eggs, overeasy, with spinach and cherry tomatoes, toast and coffee.
TG: Finally, is there any advice that you would give to 18-year-old Bianca?
BF: I would say to be a bit more assertive in what you want. I feel that when I was 18 I said “okay, that’s fine” a lot as opposed to standing up for myself a bit more. I would also tell her to do some true self-reflection and realize who you are and what you stand for, so that when you truly believe in something, go for it.
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