Sarnia’s Julia Greenshields travels the world as a member of Canada’s national rugby sevens team but still cherishes the opportunity to help young players back in her hometown.
“The Sarnia Saints helped me and they’re a big supporter of me and my dreams,” she said of the squad she joined while attending St. Clair Secondary School.
“If I could do anything for anyone in Sarnia I would, just like the Sarnia Saints did for me.”
Geenshields plays rugby sevens, the hot, new version of the sport in which teams comprised of seven players compete on a regulation field over two seven-minute halves.
Her big break came while playing for the Western University Mustangs, when she was carded as a full-time player by Rugby Canada. She moved to Victoria in January of 2012, the youngest member of the Canadian team, to train at the Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence.
Now based on the west coast and travelling the world over for tournaments, the 25-year-old continues to make time to return to her old stomping grounds to coach. Her expertise at rugby sevens makes her in high demand.
The fast-paced sports debuted at the Rio Olympics — where Canada won bronze — and its popularity is expanding rapidly.
“I spend a good chunk of my time helping coach mostly ‘under 18’ teams, because sevens is growing and there’s still not a lot of sevens specialty coaches,” she said.
The Journal caught up with Greenshields shortly after the Canadian National Rugby Sevens team captured the Sydney Sevens title in Australia with a 21-17 win over the U.S. earlier this month.
It was a positive turn for the Canadian women who began the season with a disappointing sixth-place finish in Dubai in December.
Greenshields said the team refocused and trained hard over the holidays and re-emerged in the new year with a fresh outlook.
The victory was especially gratifying for Greenshields, who had failed to make the medal-winning Olympic squad last year.
“Ultimately, I was not good enough, and I had to take that into the new season and work my ass off pretty much,” she said.
But now as a fixture on the Canadian team she’s set her sights on Tokyo in 2020.
The 5-foot-5 and 137-pound athlete said that between the bumps and bruises rugby has something rare in competitive sports.
“If anyone were to watch rugby, they would see that it’s fast, it’s intense and aggressive. But people don’t always see the culture of rugby. It’s just such a friendly, family community,” she said.
For now, Greenshields said she’s happy to compete internationally while living on Vancouver Island with her Chesapeake Bay retriever, Reis.
But, she added, she still prefers Blue Water Bridge fries to Nanaimo bars and would rather swim in Lake Huron than the Pacific Ocean any day.
“It’s a lot warmer in Lake Huron,” she said.