Rugby run takes New West teen to Paris, national team camp

You won’t find New Westminster’s Willow Beyea complaining about the dog days of summer.

The teenager’s months away from school have been well spent, much of the time away from her home base. And it’s all thanks to her passion for rugby.

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The 17-year-old is heading to Vancouver Island this week to participate in the Canadian national women’s training camp, just a week after she played for Team B.C. at the Western championships in Regina.

Before that, Beyea was part of the lineup with the Celtic Barbarians who competed at the World Games in Paris, France.

Her feet may be on the ground, but Beyea admits to still being among the clouds when she thinks of the experiences she’s enjoyed over the past month.

“I think going to Paris was a pretty big thing, and it’s made me realize that, through rugby, I can go to all these amazing places,” said Beyea. “Making the provincial team and getting invited to this Canada camp are highlights for sure. It’s been a really big year for me.”

That would be an understatement.

Her journey to France as a member of the Barbarians roster – an Alberta-based 7s touring team that picks up players from across the globe, but mostly B.C. – was an eye-opener. Going up against international competition and finishing third in the under-18 tournament was amazing, Beyea said.

“It was really good – I think the hardest team we played was definitely the Irish national team,” she recalls. “They were really hard and they definitely beat us, but I think we put up a pretty good fight. Local French teams were also pretty good, it was an all-around good competition, you know.”

On the team’s off-days, they explored the city, soaking in the sites of Notre Dame, currently being rebuilt after last winter’s fire, and seeing the Eiffel Tower.

“I think the opening ceremonies for the World Games, which took  place in front of the Eiffel Tower would be (the highlight) and a tie with that and when we won our last game to come in third,” she said.

It was the third time she joined the Barbarians, after trips to Las Vegas and Florida in past years.

As soon as she stepped off the plane in B.C., Beyea was booked for Team B.C.’s selection camp. From there she put on the B.C. colours for the Western 15s championships in Regina, where they finished fourth overall.

From that, she got the impressive invitation for this week’s national camp.

For someone who has played the game since the age of five, the past few weeks have given her the fodder to push her dream even further.

“I’ve absolutely been in love with it since I started playing. My teammates – honestly, it sounds super cheesy, but (my favourite part of) club is I have so much support, so much support from my teammates and it’s just a really great atmosphere.”

A member of the United Rugby Club, based in Coquitlam and playing at New West’s Hume Park, Beyea has had her parents with her each step of the way. Dad Mike is a club coach, while mom Julie, a former player, is still involved as an official.

A prop with the 7s squad, Beyea likes the role of 8th man on her 15s teams. That’s where she really gets into the game.

“I really like running 8-man picks so I take the ball off the back of the scrum and usually just jam the ball down the other team’s throat,” she said with a laugh. “It’s really fun. I like to run with the ball but I also like being on defence.  Like making a tackle and when I know it’s a real solid hit is amazing.”

As New West Secondary doesn’t have a school team, Beyea makes the trek to Coquitlam during the school year to play with Dr. Charles Best’s senior girls team.

“I started in Grade 8 there and I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. I’ve made such close friends with the girls on that team and it’s just like a second family. It’s awesome – I get to spend so much time with my friends, I get to see them in club practices and the school practices.”

Before beginning her Grade 12 year at NWSS, she will embrace one more opportunity.

“Right now, I’d really like to focus on getting to a university-level team, and then maybe, the senior national team would be my highest goal.

“That would be incredible, just to play for my country, in the red-and-white jersey and have all my family and friends see me, that would be a pretty great feeling.

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