Garcia is Spain's star turn at sevens
Only tried out the game reluctantly
Helped Spain qualify for the Olympics
For Patricia Garcia and rugby, it was love at first sight.
“Rugby is my passion and my way of life,” she says. “It teaches so much and I try to share the values of it.”
But that love may have gone unrequited if a friend at university hadn’t coaxed her into trying out the sport.
“I was playing football with a friend and she suggested I come along and try out rugby,” Garcia tells CNN from Spain’s Australian base ahead of this weekend’s Sydney Sevens tournament.
“I said, ‘No way, I don’t want to.’ In the end, I gave in and, when I played for the first time, I fell in love.”
Despite coming to the game relatively late in life, the 27-year-old is now a key player for Spain’s women’s sevens team on the world series circuit, and has enjoyed a dream trip to the Olympics.
Spain’s record points scorer will be looking to inspire her side once more at the second round of the 2016-17 series in Sydney, and will make her 100th appearance for Las Leonas (the Lionesses) if she plays in all six games Friday and Saturday.
In December’s Dubai opener, Garcia’s 32 points was the fourth best of all players, though Spain finished 10th of the 12 teams competing.
‘I could do everything’
Growing up, the Madrid resident reveled in sport. A keen athlete, she threw the shot put and javelin, liked to sprint and was always keen to play football – but she found her true calling with rugby.
“When I first tried it I realized I could do everything,” Garcia says. “It wasn’t just that you could kick and run, but grab and tackle, go to ground and get up again.
“There was the fact everyone in the team has a role, that everyone’s important in a different way. I didn’t know the rules – I didn’t understand it but I loved it. I didn’t know how to tackle, but to start with people just gave me the ball and told me to run.”
Garcia has kept on running, and played an integral role in her side winning a qualifying tournament to claim a place at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the undoubted high spot of her career to date.
“Last year was the best year of my life in Spanish rugby,” she says. “It was just like a dream with the boys and girls qualifying for the Olympics.”
Garcia’s parents were once bemused by her choice of sport, but they sat proudly in the stands in Rio cheering their daughter on.
“They didn’t know anything about rugby but they’ve always been proud supporters,” she says. “They now love it and watch a lot of rugby games. Being there in Rio is one of those moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life. We’d made it there.”
Unlike the men’s team, Spain’s women qualified out of their pool, but lost to eventual champion Australia in the quarterfinals.
Having achieved her long-term goal of an Olympic appearance, Garcia admits she is now at something of a career crossroads.
“It’s difficult to pick a next target as I’ve achieved the dreams I set out for,” she says.
“At the moment, I just want to help the new group and young girls working towards Tokyo 2020. I think I will go to that point, and work out what I want to do for the next four years.”
Growing the game
With a sports science degree to her name, Garcia is a member of a professional athletes’ group in Spain and was a sevens ambassador for Madrid’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2020 Olympics.
“I’d like to maybe get involved in sports administration or else coaching,” she admits. “But right now I don’t know.”
Whatever the decision, Garcia’s dream is to help rugby grow in a country where it ranks far below football and basketball.
“The numbers are rising but we have to keep trying to make sure there is a good future for rugby in Spain,” she says.
Garcia has played her part in continuing the Olympic momentum by helping Las Leonas to qualify for this year’s 15-a-side World Cup in Ireland, beating Scotland in November’s playoff.
“You see more groups and more girls playing. It’s a really nice moment for rugby in Spain right now, but hopefully we can continue to make it grow,” she adds.
“I just want to share this sport and its values with everyone, to promote rugby any way. For me, it’s been my dream.”
With Garcia’s enthusiasm alone, the future looks bright for Spanish rugby.