Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

She's going strong

Liz Sera comes charging out of Winnipeg to excel in two hard sports

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QUE sera, sera -- whatever Liz Sera wants to be in the world of sport, it appears she'll be.

Soccer or water polo? Been there, done that. Basketball, volleyball, gymnastics? Check.

Now, the 19-year-old Winnipegger is on a scholarship to the University of Western Ontario and playing two of the roughest, toughest sports there are, male or female, at an elite level: wrestling and rugby.

"I'm not a big girl; I'm like 130 pounds," Sera chuckled from London, Ont., "and people are like, 'What? You play these two rough-and-tumble sports?' And I'm like, 'Oh, God.'

"I obviously love contact and I was always the one in soccer that needed to settle down. I really like rugby and wrestling because they're new for women."

Sera doesn't just play the two sports, she excels in them. She's a member of the under-20 national women's rugby team and has competed for Canada on international tours despite her comparatively small 5-foot-6 frame.

She wrestled for Manitoba at the 2005 Canada Summer Games in Regina and now is among the most promising up-and-comers in that sport in the country, still a teen competing against women as old as 25 or more.

Earlier this month, Sera won a bronze medal in her 59-kilogram weight class at the Ontario University Association wrestling championships, qualifying for the CIS nationals in Calgary later this week.

Before that, she won wrestling gold at Ontario's under-20 championships and will compete at those nationals in Regina March 19-22. She didn't wrestle at last year's nationals because she was playing rugby in England, Wales and Scotland.

"I was really torn," said Sera, who got her start in both sports at Vincent Massey Collegiate. She was in gymnastics and used to watch wrestling next door and agreed with the school's wrestling coach that she should try that sport.

Another coach/teacher later told her that with her abilities and background in wrestling and soccer -- she was on a provincial soccer team -- playing rugby was natural, as it's essentially a combination of those two sports.

Sera ended up making the provincial rugby team and competing in the nationals for Manitoba the same year she took up the sport. A hooker and flanker in rugby, she says the two sports are perfect for each other.

"Wrestling translates into my position so much because flankers just tackle, and that's what wrestling is," she said. "When you tackle, you're low -- it's positioning. The sports intertwine so much -- the fitness, the body position, everything."

Sera wanted to play both sports at university and Western's a good fit because the school is known for its excellence in both. Her national rugby coach is also the coach of Western's rugby squad.

She bulks up to about 140 pounds to play rugby, but that's still far too small if she wants to play for the senior team, she said, pointing out she tackles her much bigger opponents low because "that's the only way I can survive."

"But wrestling is the complete opposite," she said. "I'm cutting weight every weekend and dieting and being in a sauna suit, so those two aspects of those sports are really hard."

But smaller players can succeed in rugby if they're fast, tenacious, have good technique and can tackle, she said. Eventually, however, she knows she'll have to choose either to gain weight for rugby or stick to wrestling mats.

"Your body has to change so much; you've got to bulk up," she said. "Size does matter. There's no way that a 130-pound girl can make her way in 15s rugby on the senior national team."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2009 C1

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