Written by Robert Burgin
Each week Brasil Rugby League team manager Robert Burgin writes about his experiences helping to guide a developing rugby league nation to its debut World Cup appearance.
SHE’S become one of the most prominent faces of Brasil Rugby League, her ambitious gaze and beaming smile plastered across Rugby League World Cup 2021 promotions around the world.
Her rise from an ‘obese’ keyboard player in a church band is just one part of a captivating personal story.
A little over two years ago Sarah Silva went to a medical appointment only to be told her blood pressure was off the charts and she was on the path to becoming a lifestyle-acquired diabetic.
The diagnosis hit her hard.
“All this and I was just 23 years old!” Silva recalls, shaking her head.
“I was at the height of obesity. I went looking for an endocrinologist and started exercising regularly.
“Within eight months I lost 17kg. In total to now, I’ve lost 29kg.
“I have a personal trainer, a nutritionist and, of course, my sports coaches to help guide me along the way.
“People are starting to talk about my transformation now, but it actually started two years ago with the realisation my health issues needed to be treated with urgency.”
Now training six days per week, Silva has become an inspiration to others within the Brasil Rugby League system, defining the seriousness with which the squad is approaching the historic 2021 World Cup opportunity.
She has participated in both rugby codes since she was 21, having spent her childhood participating in taekwondo, soccer, volleyball and European handball.
“I was always encouraged to play sports and from the ages six to 14 I competed in taekwondo. I was a black belt at age 12,” reveals Silva, a computer technician by trade.
“I believe martial arts contributed directly to the formation of my character and I endeavour to carry the principles of courtesy, integrity, perseverance and discipline with me in adulthood.
“The other thing that has greatly influenced me is music. My family is very musical. I was given my first guitar when I was only three years old.
“I became interested in the keyboard when I turned five and that’s an instrument I still play to this day in the church and at weddings.
“I am part of a Christian music band called Ministério Restaura-te (Ministry of Self Restoration).”
Born three days after Christmas in Belo Horizonte, one of the biggest cities in Brasil, Silva has spent most of her life living in Contagem, just to the west of Belo.
She is a central figure in the emergence of a new rugby league club team this past month – Minas Gerais Miners – which aims to represent the entire mineral-rich state.
In previous forays in rugby league she represented clubs that were more than five hours drive away, such is the geographic expanse of Brasil and the previously limited number of foundation clubs in the BRL.
Getting things done by whatever means possible is clearly a mindset that Silva has adopted as she eyes a place on the plane for England in a year’s time.
“When COVID hit Brasil, my workplace closed, my gym closed and the university where I trained with a rugby team closed,” says Silva, also an Olympic weightlifting enthusiast.
“But the changes were not necessarily bad, and I used the time I would previously spend commuting to exercise more.
“If I can’t run at a park or athletics track, then I run on my street. If I can’t do box jumps at a gym, then I jump up the stairs at my house. If I don’t have cones to mark my drills, I use bottles of cleaning products.”
Neither of Silva’s parents had much idea how the rules worked in either rugby code until their daughter started playing.
However, now they have developed an appreciation for her efforts, they have followed her at venues across the country.
“To hopefully play in a World Cup and be a source of pride for my family and friends is the fulfilment of a dream,” Silva says.
“As a sports lover since I was a child, I have dreamt of representing Brasil in the Olympics or other major events many times.
“I see in Brasil a lot of potential.
“My wish for the future is that the next generation will have access to rugby league from the grassroots level upwards and that the women may reach adulthood with the possibility of working in professional teams.”
If you fancy supporting underdogs Brasil on their World Cup journey, it is possible to make a one-off or weekly donation that will go towards the costs of their training camps and warm-up fixtures – or even get your name on their official training shirt. Click here to support Brasil’s women’s team, a team that will consist of approximately 90 per cent domestically-based players.