“I am very proud”: Youth Unstoppable Larissa living her dream in São Paulo

Larissa made the tough decision to leave home when she was just 16, but she is on course to achieve her goals and represent Brazil on the biggest stages.

Looking back on the events that have led to her becoming a Youth Unstoppable, Larissa admits that things have moved “quite quickly”.

Introduced to rugby through a school programme in 2016, when she was 13, Larissa was attracted to the game because it was different and taught its participants values.

Although Larissa suffered a bout of butterflies ahead of her first match, she soon discovered that she had an aptitude for the game, too. Less than three years after first picking up an oval ball she was invited to join the Confederação Brasileira de Rugby Academia São Paulo.

Moving 400 kilometres away from friends and family in Curitiba was tough – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as she couldn’t make her twice monthly trips home – but she found in São Paulo a supportive community of team-mates.

They have helped her as she has evolved on and off the pitch over the past two years and were as excited as she was when the news arrived that she would be part of this campaign.

“Rugby caught my eye because it’s a different sport, which few people know here. I’m a very curious girl, I wanted to understand it and fell in love with the sport and everything around it,” Larissa told World Rugby.

“Everything happened quite fast. I discovered rugby when I was 13 years old and by the time I was 16 I was in São Paulo living like that.

“It was quite a quick transformation, and I didn’t choose to do everything, but the thing (rugby) chose me. It was quite organic.”

“I still have lots of things to learn”

Natural it may have been, but Larissa could not help being apprehensive as she made the long journey from Curitiba to Brazil’s most populous city.

Fortunately, Larissa received a warm welcome from her new team-mates at the academy and she was able to adapt to her new surroundings quickly.

Enjoying success on the pitch, at the Sudamérica Rugby U18 Women’s Sevens Championship 2019 in Chile, certainly helped that transition but she has also relished meeting girls from across Brazil’s 27 states.

“I’m living my dream, so even though I’m far away from home I have a ‘why’ I’m doing that,” she explained.

“I have a purpose to be here, so that makes everything easier.

“I still have lots of things to learn but I’m very satisfied with everything that I have built until now.

“Even though I am at the start of my rugby life, I am very proud of myself.

“One of the things about being in the national team is having people from every state. We have a big country with different cultures all over, so it’s nice when you put all these people together with the same purpose.

“Everybody wants the same thing, it doesn’t really matter about traditions, everybody adds something to the team.”

Larissa’s own ‘why’ for being in São Paulo is to break into the national team and represent Brazil at Rugby World Cup Sevens and the Olympic Games.

Having made a “big evolution” over the past year, her coach is confident that Larissa is on the right path to achieving those goals.

Should she earn a call-up to the senior Yaras squad then the 18-year-old could end up sharing a pitch with her favourite player: Luiza Campos.

“[She shows what can happen] when you give 100 per cent of yourself to everything,” Larissa said.

“When she plays, she is very committed and deals with stressful situations and stuff like that very naturally.

“I look at her like, if she gives 100 per cent then I want to give 100 per cent. So, it’s something that motivates me and makes me want to be closer to the level she is at right now.”

Forging a cool path

Campos has captained the Yaras and played at both the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she lined up alongside Bianca Silva.

Winger Silva was part of the original ‘Try and Stop Us’ Unstoppables campaign in 2019, and Larissa is proud to follow in her footsteps.

“It’s a huge honour to represent Brazil in this way,” she said. “In the beginning I didn’t realise how huge the whole process and the whole campaign was.

“Then, when I found out that Bianca had been in the other edition, I said, ‘Wow, that’s actually huge!’ It’s a huge honour to represent all these young girls.”

Watching Silva, who scored three tries at Tokyo Stadium, competing against some of the best teams in the world made Larissa’s own goals seem more achievable.

“It made me think it’s actually possible,” she said, “it made the dream very real.”

Since moving to São Paulo, Larissa says that thanks to close family and friends, and therapy, she has learned to be less hard on herself and to relax more on the pitch.

That is advice she is keen to pass onto younger women and girls who may harbour their own dreams of playing the game she loves.

“You need to enjoy it and make a cool path,” she said. “Have fun and enjoy yourself and good things are going to happen.”

That is certainly true for Larissa, whose experiences would be very different today had she not attended that first training session in Curitiba five years ago. “I would probably have the most boring life,” she said.

“I would have missed a lot of opportunities to see new places, meet new people and have a much funnier life.”

Larissa was first introduced to rugby through a school programme in her home city of Curitiba in Brazil, when she was 13.

Attracted to the game because it was “different” to those she had played previously and intrigued by the values it taught, Larissa threw herself into learning about rugby and its laws.

Having overcome an initial bout of butterflies to play in her first match, she admits that things have moved quickly since then.

In 2019, less than three years after she first picked up an oval ball, Larissa left her family home in Curitiba to join the Confederação Brasileira de Rugby Academia São Paulo.

Starting a new life 400 kilometres away from friends and family was tough but Larissa was welcomed with open arms by her new team-mates at the academy.

Within a few months of arriving in São Paulo, having only recently turned 16, she was part of the Brazil squad that won the Sudamérica Rugby U18 Women’s Sevens Championship 2019 in Chile.

Last updated: Apr 10, 2022, 9:31:58 PM
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