Julia Sugawara (’08) started playing rugby in grade 8, and as soon as she graduated high school, she started club rugby. Though the sport was in her blood, she also wanted to advance her education, so she studied at Trinity Western for her first undergraduate year, then transferred to Simon Fraser where she completed her BA in Linguistics. She then returned to earn a Masters of Applied Linguistics and Exegesis at ACTS Seminaries.
Although she loved the study of linguistics, rugby was her main passion and the opportunity to play professionally was a dream come true.
“I’m one of those people who went to school and never used their degree,” Sugawara says with a laugh. “I really loved linguistics and was into it at the time but ended up playing rugby for Canada for longer than I thought I would.”
Sugawara played for Burnaby Lake for 15 years and represented Canada at three Rugby World Cups in 2006, 2010, and 2014. Over the course of ten years, she played in 46 games.
“It was an incredible honor and privilege, and is something I don’t take for granted,” Sugawara says of that time. “Putting on that Canadian jersey represented days and days of training. It’s an incredible thing, especially to be part of a team that’s committed to competing on the world stage.”
Playing at the Highest Level
Sugawara says it can be challenging to play at the highest levels of a professional sport, and it really becomes all-consuming.
“There’s time away from family and friends because of training or travelling. Financially, you’re taking a big hit because you’re missing work when away and paying to be there. Then there’s the decisions around the food you eat, how late you stay up, time out training instead of spending with people. It invades all of your free time,” says Sugawara.
“It’s honestly some of the best times in my life and some of the hardest, but it’s shaped me to be the person I am today,” adds Sugawara. “If you’re willing to make the choices you have to achieve your goals, it’s an awesome run.”
Life After Rugby
After many years of actively playing, Sugawara says her body was beginning to feel the toll and so she stopped playing internationally. She continued her education and decided to take on a few coaching opportunities. One of those is with the Trinity Western Spartans Women’s Rugby team.
“Andy Evans, Director of the Rugby program at TWU, contacted me a few years ago to tell me he was starting a program,” says Sugawara. “We initially spoke when he first had the idea. We kept in contact and when the program was ready, we started chatting again.”
In May, Sugawara took on the job of Head Coach for the Spartan’s women’s rugby team.
The transition from player to coach has been challenging in many ways, but Sugawara says the adrenaline rush during games is still there and she loves being a part of it.
“As a coach, you can do less about what happens on the field, in the moment. My mind is in a slightly different place,” says Sugawara. “But I still love the atmosphere of rugby and the people around the game. A lot of the coaches are either people I’ve played with or former coaches of mine. It’s quite a connected community.”
Trinity Western was a special place for Sugawara in many ways, and so she’s very thankful to be back in this Head Coach role and to have the opportunity to build this team from the ground up. Although the program is still new and growing, Sugawara believes it has a bright future.
“It’s a team that’s full of heart and commitment to each-other,” says Sugawara. “We’re improving every day, and that’s exciting to see.”