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Whitefish's Nicole Heavirland putting 'best forward,' soaking up third time competing at Olympics

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Posted at 7:13 PM, Jul 10, 2024

MISSOULA — Growing up in Whitefish, Nicole Heavirland remembers a fun childhood full of outdoor activities with her family.

"I go back to the days like growing up in Montana and just being so grateful for my childhood," Heavirland told MTN Sports. "My parents did everything they could to put us in the right schools, put us in the right sports. But we were non-stop when we were young."

But there's one vivid memory from her youth that stayed with her.

"We actually didn't grow up with cable for a long time when I was in Montana, but when we did watch TV it was the Olympics, so that's a really special moment to be a part of," Heavirland said with a grin. "And remembering that as a little girl, and then now being a part of it."

It's a fitting memory for the Montanan, because for the third time in her decorated career with the Team USA Rugby Sevens squad Heavirland is headed to the Summer Olympics.

Heavirland first went as an alternate in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, then again made the team and played every minute in the Tokyo Games when the team took sixth in the tournament.

Now, after getting the news in June, she's headed to Paris.

"For me, it's impressive, I guess, because I know there's so many people who would love to be in my position and to be a part of it, to go to the Olympics, to be in the village, to hopefully play and compete for a medal, it's like nothing else, and there was no guarantee I'd make it like but, you know, it was just each day, doing everything I can, putting my best forward," she said.

"Being able to represent the team in any capacity is just such an honor. It's such a competitive group where I've been a part of the program for nine seasons now. This is my ninth season, and it's the most competitive it's ever been. We're the most fit we've ever been. So it's exciting to be a part of it."

Team USA qualified in 2022 for the 2024 Olympics, so it was about finalizing the roster the rest of the way. Heavirland said every day felt like a tryout, including the regular season in which she competes every year, as the team traveled around the world competing and the coaches made their decision on who to take to Paris.

Heavirland, who currently resides in San Diego where she lives and trains, will be an alternate for Team USA and available in case of injury, and will get to do and take in everything the Olympics have to offer.

To compete at the highest level in world class cities like Rio, Tokyo and now Paris, it's an accomplishment that can't be understated for an athlete from a town of around 9,000 people in northwest Montana.

"It's super amazing to think back on it," Heavirland said. "To represent your country, really, for 10 years, 10 seasons, and now three Olympics is unbelievable. I have so much gratitude, and I've been fortunate to travel the world. I've had it really good, and I've met a lot of great people, but it doesn't feel like I'm done just yet."

Team USA will compete in the women's Rugby Sevens bracket July 28-30. The United States will take on Japan, Brazil and the host nation France in Pool C play, with the first game slated for 8:30 a.m. Mountain on Sunday, July 28 against Japan. The full schedule can be found here.

Having traveled the world in her rugby career, Heavirland has seen it all on and off the pitch, and she said it's about enjoying the moments and the opportunities she experiences. With the program — they call themselves The Highwomen in honor of the country supergroup — she's been a captain, a starter, a reserve and a leader, and now she'll bring it all together for another run.

"Let's just enjoy it," she said. "Don't be bogged down by the jet lag, the different food, the different beds. What can I like, take out of this experience? Put rugby to the side, just enjoy my teammates at meals, because we know how to play rugby.

"At the end of the day, everyone who trains at the center full time knows how to pass the ball, knows how to tackle like we do it so many times. It's all about just enjoyment, and then also mindfulness and practicing what's going on in your mind is super important."

But the goal is always to succeed and bring home hardware for the USA, with eyes on earning a medal and another on growing the sport back home in the states.

"We have so much leverage to grow this sport in America," Heavirland said. "The goal is to have little girls and little boys grow up in America wanting to become rugby players. Instead of saying, 'I want to be a basketball player, I want to be a soccer player.' That's what the goal is. And I think if we win a gold medal, it's only going to grow this sport even more.

"Just super proud and on board, buying in with the team that's been selected, and knowing that we really do have a chance. We've shown that we could medal at our tournaments. So why not the Olympics?"