Ellia Green: Australia's rugby strongwoman aims to make mom smile

Story highlights

  • Former sprinter switched to rugby
  • Aiming to star at 2016 Rio Olympics
  • She only took up the sport by chance
  • Her mother is recovering from cancer

(CNN)Most people go to the gym to lift weights -- but Ellia Green lifts her teammates.

The Australian rugby star is one of the toughest players in the women's sevens game, and has become something of an online sensation.
Her Instagram videos of her lifting colleagues and scoring mesmerizing tries are all the rage.
    The 22-year-old made headlines when she scored one of the sport's greatest tries, running through the Canadian defense at the Gold Coast Sevens in October 2014.

    when your team mate is wayway more fun to military press than the bar 😂😂😂

    A video posted by Ellia Tiriseyani Green (@elliagreen) on

    But Green, a former sprinter, had a chance introduction to the game.
    She got involved only because her cousin, a budding player herself, needed a lift to one of the "Pathway to Gold" trials aimed at finding new rugby talent. So it must have been an awkward journey back when she was selected and her cousin wasn't.
    "It was all pretty random," Green told CNN.
    "I wasn't even supposed to be there and they just asked me to join in -- and that was it.
    "I ended up going to Canberra to train with the Australia girls and didn't really know what I'd be in for.
    "I had no idea about rugby or the rules but I did what my mom said -- 'Ellia, if you get the ball, just run, nobody's going to catch you.'"

    Mother knows best

    It turns out that her mom was right. A former 100 and 200-meter runner, Green had always dreamed of representing Australia at the Olympics.
    She began sprinting at the age of five after moving to Australia from her native Fiji.

    The greatest gift that God has given me , I am forever grateful for your love mum 😘😘😘

    A photo posted by Ellia Tiriseyani Green (@elliagreen) on

    And she was good too -- winning competitions and competing at the World School Games in Qatar in 2009.
    Her mother, Yolantha, has been one of her biggest influences on her career, but last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, leaving the family in shock.
    Her mom is now recovering, and Green is desperate to do well and put a smile on her face.
    "She has been one of the reasons, one of the of the rocks, which has helped me throughout my life," Green says.
    "She has always been there -- watching me, giving me advice.
    "Whenever I'm playing she's always at the back of my mind -- I always think about how strong she has been."
    In November last year, Green and the Australian team posed for a calendar to raise money for the Cancer Council.
    On the second page of the calendar, there's a quote from Green which says: "Persevere to achieve greatness and you can fight any challenge that life may throw at you. Mum, you are my inspiration, my determination, my queen."

    Team spirit

    For Green, who used to train on her own or with just her sprint coach for company, the atmosphere and environment of the team has been a source of great comfort.
    And then there's the rugby -- a sport which brought her a whole new perspective to life.
    "So many people in life don't realize their potential," she says.
    "I didn't picture myself as a rugby player but, on a full-size field I could run around, it was so much fun.
    "Sevens is such an exciting sport. There's a whole new athletic standard, teams are getting faster and there are countries like Russia, which has came out of nowhere."
    The next city on the Women's Sevens World Series calendar is Sao Paulo, where Green hopes to lead Australia to more success next weekend. She turns 23 on the opening Saturday of the tournament.
    After winning December's first round of the 2015-16 season in Dubai, beating Russia 33-12 in the final, the girls in gold are already concentrating on the next challenge.
    "People are becoming more aware that it's an Olympic sport," says Green, who helped her team -- nicknamed the Pearls -- to a 3-0 sweep against Ireland in last weekend's warmup matches in Sydney.
    "A lot more people are taking it seriously, including countries who have never had teams. It's just getting bigger and bigger.
    "Now we're hoping to continue where we left off and win in Brazil."
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