CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Naya Tapper is headed to the Tokyo Olympics representing Team USA in Women's rugby.
But her journey to get to the world stage was not an easy one.
Tapper, who plays rugby for the national team and professionally for five years now, started playing in college at UNC-Chapel Hill. Tapper said she went into college thinking she would just focus on academics and enjoying her life as a college student.
The 5-foot, 9-inch tall athlete had been fully committed to track and field in middle school and high school and said she wanted a little break from the pressures of sports.
It didn't take Tapper long to miss playing sports, however.
"You know, doing sports your whole life, you kind of start missing it," Tapper recalled. "And I saw they had a rugby team."
Tapper said she thought rugby was a good fit for her because she was a pretty aggressive child growing up and loved contact sports.
"I had heard about it in high school, but didn't have a chance to take up the opportunity," Tapper said.
Tapper said once at UNC-Chapel Hill, she tried out for the rugby, made the team and played there for four years.
In 2016, Tapper went to the rugby training center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Tapper said she was there for about four months before she got cut from the team.
But she did not let that little setback stop her from fulfilling her dreams. Tapper went home, worked hard, and four months later she was accepted back into the program.
Tapper said even as a child, sports just came easily for her.
"I feel like I was naturally talented at anything I picked up," Tapper said.
So that's why she was shocked when she was cut from the rugby training program. Tapper's coach saw the potential in her and decided to put her back in the program.
"I'm going to put you in an academy for you to get better," Tapper recalled her coach telling her. "And if you get better, we'll rock and roll with it. And if you don't this will be the end of your career as a rugby player - with the national team at least."
Tapper said she knew there was going to be a moment in her life when she would have to deal with adversity.
"I was waking up at 4 a.m. to go train, going back home to sleep and then going to work for 8 hours at Buffalo Wild Wings," Tapper said.
Tapper said one takeaway she learned from getting cut was that adversity usually leads you to hitting another level in your life in a positive way.
"If you take up the challenge, everything is not going to be easy," Tapper said.
"And that's kind of where I've marked my name and who I was in the rugby world," Tapper said.
Tapper said ever since that moment, her career in rugby has just skyrocketed.
"And now today, I can say I'm officially going to my first Olympics in Tokyo for 2021," Tapper said. "I'm super excited, super proud. It's been a long journey to get here."
Off the Clock with Carboni is a weekly, in-depth, inside look at Charlotte sports, including the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, and more, hosted by WCNC Sports Director Nick Carboni.
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