The newest piece in our My Favourite Sporting Moment series tells us how Australia’s Rugby 7s gold medal inspired Brielle Quigley to return to sport.
My favourite sporting moment happened four years ago, 12,774 kilometres away from my small city in the North of Tasmania.
It wasn’t an epic pass or a game-saving tackle; it wasn’t a high-speed foot race between sprinters or even the footwork of a player like Charlotte Caslick, who resembles more of a dancer than a rugby player when she weaves through the midfield. Nope, it wasn’t about a singular moment at all, but rather the culmination of several moments that resulted in the Australian women’s rugby sevens team winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
I would love to be able to tell you a story about where I was when I watched the final showdown against New Zealand, recall how I felt watching green-and-gold faces roar as the final whistle blew and the players reckoned with their new status as Olympic gold medallists. I would love to, but I can’t—because at the time, I didn’t even know rugby sevens existed.
At this point, you would be valid in wondering why a game I didn’t watch holds so much meaning. I’ve seen a lot of incredible sporting moments in the space between 2016 and today that would certainly have made the cut, but there is a reason I continue to herald the Rio final as my favourite. Had it not been for the girls winning gold, not only would I have missed these moments, I would very likely not be writing this piece at all.
Up until 2016, I had become part of the statistic that sees almost 50 per cent of girls sever ties with sport by age seventeen. I had dabbled in netball and rowing in early high school but, by the time I started a casual job and my academic load increased, I made the decision to leave sport behind in the nostalgia of my early teens. Besides, a lot of my friends were doing the same thing—it was only the boys who kept footy as a ritualistic part of their weekends, it was just different for us. At this time, AFLW didn’t exist and there was an understanding that contact sports were an unacceptable choice for girls. When the winter sports forms would roll around, Aussie Rules sat neatly to the left, guarded by a subtitle that read ‘BOYS’.
But what we didn’t get told about sport is the long list of health benefits it provides for women of all ages. We didn’t get sold the narrative of mateship and camaraderie that boys experience as a given, nor encouraged with the myriads of social benefits sport provides. While we were being primed for a lifetime of beauty standards and impossible expectations, the improved self esteem experienced by those playing team sports was largely reserved for, well, men. At least it was at the time, when our options were scarce and women’s elite level representation—particularly in male-dominated sports—was devastatingly low.
After I left school for a gap year working full time, I began to miss sport. I had no idea where to begin with reconnecting, because I wasn’t even sure what my options were. I’d enjoyed my time with netball but hadn’t really experienced much else outside of it. I had absolutely never tackled anyone or even considered what that would be like. But towards the end of August—only a few days after my nineteenth birthday—I saw a Facebook post calling all women who were interested in learning how to play rugby.
The post cited the Australian women’s rugby sevens gold medal win, going on to detail the fast-paced nature of sevens with its short halves and quintessential rugby physicality. It included a clip of highlights from the final, and I remember watching in awe as a young Evania Pelite flew down the wing to score a try off a New Zealand penalty. The hard tackling, the speed, the fending—and Charlotte Caslick’s classic braids—were enough to reel me in. This was a revelation. Although Tasmania continues to be a state dominated by Aussie Rules, men’s rugby union has existed here for decades. While women’s competitions had occurred over the years, they were sporadic—and fleeting—and I had certainly never heard of them.
Going to that Thursday night information session changed everything. I became fitter while having fun, I learned to pass, to tackle, to scrum. I met the most incredible group of women, many of which are still my rugby teammates today, who play main roles in some of my happiest memories. More than anything, I felt so empowered seeing my body as powerful and functional, not as an object that should be poked and prodded at for ease of external consumption.
The gold medal win in 2016 not only put rugby sevens on the map in Australia in its first year of Olympic sport status, but it shone a long-awaited light on the exceptional talent our female athletes have to offer. It resulted in a spike of female participation in the sport, and it saw the first women’s rugby sevens state competition introduced to Tasmania—which, four years later, is still going strong. It cemented the star status of players like Ellia Green, Caslick and Pelite, who recently starred in the 2020 NRLW season—something that didn’t even exist when they each stood on the podium. And, on a much more personal level, it reignited a love for sport that I had written off as an inconsequential part of my youth.
As it turns out, a game you didn’t even know about can have a pretty significant impact on your life. I am, after all, writing this piece as a passionate intern for a women in sport collective.