Cancer survivor credits rugby for giving her hope

Venezuelan Virginia Varela credits her faith, her family and rugby as crucial in her fight against cancer.

That rugby has shaped the lives of millions of people is a well-known fact. But it has meant that and more to Virginia Varela, the Venezuelan who credits the game for being a key element in her recovery from cancer.

Varela is a referee and World Rugby Educator. Married to the President of the Federación Venezolana de Rugby, Erickson Bermudez, the game has been part of her DNA for many years and that has helped her in moments of dire need.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, immediately after she returned from her first international appointment in Chile – a regional beach rugby competition – Varela is well aware that her story has already inspired many in her country and the region.

“Having shared my experience, I’ve been told that it has been of help to many others in different circumstances,” Varela says.

“Initially, I didn’t see it that way. I always thought it was my story, one in which rugby played a big and positive part.”

Staying positive

When she started her chemotherapy treatment, she had to stop refereeing as she was too weak for physical activity and was prohibited from being outside. Yet, the game that “it is my life, and helped me be who I am,” offered her a new platform to stay involved, busy and focused on positive things.

“When people found out I was sick, the outpouring of love and support from the rugby community was extraordinary. My family and friends were unconditional motors to push me through. The messages, the love, the support, even financial, that I received was overwhelming.”

Varela was persuaded down the refereeing route by a World Rugby Educator.

“‘You know the rules, why don’t you help us with the refereeing course and workshops?’” he told me. “That gave me a huge and positive push; it gave me strength and allowed me to feel useful to rugby.”

The mother of two says focusing on rugby helped take her mind away from other troubling matters.

“A new world opened and I began to read and study the laws and the game, and I started to see that there were a lot of things I could do to keep busy and be useful in the game we love at home.”

New horizons

Having finished chemotherapy, she has a new horizon. “I told the Federación Venezolana de Rugby that I wanted to teach and educate. I could referee, but I wanted more than that, and last year, in my second shot at it, I became a World Rugby Educator.

“For others, passing the Educator course might seem easy. I cannot describe in words what this meant for me.”

Questioned about the role rugby had in her recovery, she does not hold back.

“It was all. All! I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, but I had a smile as I had the game of rugby. I took it with me to every corner, working and teaching with love.

“My faith, my family and rugby were pillars in my recovery. I never allowed myself to think differently.

“Life gave me a new opportunity and I took it. I found my love for teaching, for helping others achieve their potential. This turned my life around.”

Although a few years have passed, her human story is still one that is encouraging.

“If it helps one person to value the game of rugby as an instrument to be in a better place in these days of hardships, it will have been of service. I never wanted and don’t want for people to feel compassionate; I want to be an inspiration.”

“… rugby, what a wonderful and extraordinary tool!”, an emotional Varela concluded.

Last updated: Jun 15, 2020 12:51:17 PM
Rugby - 2019 Rugby Africa Womens Cup - South Africa v Kenya - Bosman Stadium - Brakpan - South Africa
Women's Rugby World Cup Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021 RWC2021
Zenay Jordaan “proud” of South Africa career as she looks ahead to Rugby World Cup 2021
The Springbok Women fly-half talks to World Rugby about her 11-year international career, which could stretch to a sixth Rugby World Cup appearance in 2021.
Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens 2019 - Women's
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
The seven rules driving Japan women’s Tokyo 2020 preparation
Team manager Akane Kagawa gave an insight into the Sakura’s Olympic ambitions during a recent appearance on Asia Rugby Live.
Rugbaí Beo
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby women-news-regions
“TG4 have set the benchmark — it's up to everyone else to follow suit”
Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill, Eimear Considine, Máire Ní Bhraonáin and Kieran Hartigan talk to World Rugby about the Rugbaí Beo broadcast which made Irish history.
Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory women-news-2021 RWC2021
Rugby World Cup 2025 set to break new ground as tournament expands to 16 teams
World Rugby has confirmed that the women’s edition of the Rugby World Cup will expand to 16 teams from 2025 onwards.
Photo of former Japan captain and founder of One Rugby, Toshiaki Hirose
Women's Sevens Men's Rugby World Cup News Women in Rugby RWC2019
One Rugby: A new movement promoting the sport from former Japan captain Toshiaki Hirose
Former Japan captain Toshiaki Hirose and his non-profit One Rugby are behind a new movement to promote all forms of rugby amongst the Japanese people.
New Zealand v Wales - Rugby World Cup 2019: Bronze Final
Olympics Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Six of rugby’s best crossover athletes
From Sonny Bill Williams to Christian Wade, we recap six of the best players to have left their mark in rugby while playing to a high level in another sport.
Su Carty
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby women-news-power
Su Carty put scholarship plans on hold to answer ‘Ireland’s Call’
The World Rugby Council and IRFU Committee member returned to work as a psychiatric nurse in Dublin during Ireland’s initial period of lockdown.
Photo of Brazil sevens player Baby Futuro at Rio 2016
Women's Sevens News Preview Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
Women’s sevens returns in South America as they bid farewell to a star
Women’s rugby sevens returns in Uruguay with the annual South American Sevens, played in Montevideo this weekend. The tournament, which will mark Baby Futuro’s final outing for Brazil, will be streamed live on the SAR’s app.
Rugby World Cup joint host selection process
Women's Sevens Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory rwc-neutral
Key elements approved for future Rugby World Cup awarding
The World Rugby Council has approved a progressive package of recommendations by the Rugby World Cup Board that reflects the organisation’s ambition to select future men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup hosts via a transparent, best-practice host selection process.
Wales Women coaches Warren Abrahams and Rachel Taylor
Women's Rugby World Cup Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021 Women-news-coach RWC2021
Warren Abrahams and Rachel Taylor “building for the future” in Wales
The incoming Wales head coach and skills coach hope to inspire future generations of female players while creating a stable and competitive environment.