Olivia Apps explains rugby's life lessons
'I knew if I could take on anything on the rugby field, I could take on anything in life'
At 20 years old, Olivia Apps is one of the youngest players on Canada's senior women's rugby sevens team. At 165 cm tall and roughly 65 kg, she's also smaller than most of her teammates. But what she lacks in size, she makes up for with speed and agility. Her approach to the game is simple: "I just run through people and score tries."
Apps has alopecia universalis, a medical condition that causes the loss of all body hair. In her episode of Inside an Athlete's Head, she talks about the challenges that come with her condition, and how rugby helped her have the confidence to power through them.
Pressure is a constant for a high-performance athlete. What do you off the field to deal with that pressure?
I like being around people, I like surrounding myself with my friends that are outside the daily training environment — who are kind of a breath of fresh air — and have their own lives. Also, being on Vancouver Island is really nice. I like to be in the outdoors a lot and get away for the weekends. It's nice to be outside and be by the ocean. It really grounds me, I think.
Do you remember the first time you really felt pressure as an athlete?
I would say getting my first cap, my first tournament at the senior level. I felt like I worked so hard to get to that point, where I can say that I've gotten a cap, I've played at the international level, and to play with women that I looked up to for so many years. And especially because I was only getting a couple minutes a game, there was pressure to get out there and show why you were selected.
Women are seeing that rugby isn't just for men, you can be a tough woman and still be a feminine woman, and I think younger girls are seeing that and getting excited by it.- Olivia Apps
Who is the person in your life you turn to when you feel like you need advice or find yourself struggling on the field?
My teammate, Caroline Crossley. She's my roommate, and I started playing for Canada with her when we were at the youth Commonwealth Games together. Now she's my roommate, and probably my best friend. She's been through everything with me, and she's the same age as me, so she understands what I'm going through. I look to her, and she can always calm me down, she can always put a smile on my face.
Beyond the obvious, what's the biggest difference between 15-player rugby union and rugby sevens?
In union, they'll kick the ball way down the field when they just got the ball back, and you ask yourself, 'Why did they kick the ball away?' In [union], your red zone is anything past 22 metres, so you just want to get the ball downfield as fast as possible, and if that means kicking it away, so be it. But in sevens, you don't want to give it away. Turnovers are the quickest way to score.
In the documentary, you talk a bit about how rugby made you more confident. Can you expand on that at all?
The transition into high school made me a little more insecure about what it meant to be a young girl without hair and trying to figure out how to have confidence in that situation. I didn't start playing rugby until I was 15 years old. Before that, I played soccer and volleyball. My older sister played rugby and was like, 'You should give it a shot .' I was like, 'OK, I guess I just run through people and score tries.' It seemed simple enough... And I knew if I could take on anything on the rugby field, I could take on anything in life.
Women's rugby is experiencing a huge amount of growth. Why do you think that is?
With women sport in general, female athletes are redefining what it means to be feminine. Younger girls see women like myself and girls on my team playing rugby and being successful and doing what they love. Women are seeing that rugby isn't just for men, you can be a tough woman and still be a feminine woman, and I think younger girls are seeing that and getting excited by it. Also, the success our women's sides have had, both in sevens and 15s, people are seeing that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Season 2 of Inside an Athletes Head now streaming on CBC Gem.