In 2012, Elissa Alarie quit her accounting job, sublet her apartment and packed up her 2010 Honda Civic to drive cross-country to Victoria.
The native of Trois-Rivieres, Que., was going all-in on rugby.
Alarie had no invitation to join the Canadian women’s sevens team but had played for Quebec. She knew the players recently centralized in Victoria and believed she could compete with them.
“I didn’t want to wake up 15 years later and be like ‘What if?”‘ she said.
Alarie emailed the coaches to see if she could join them. The answer was lukewarm at best — “If you don’t slow up the group, you can show up a few times.”
But an injury opened up a spot on the squad at a tournament in Dubai. Then Rugby Canada offered Alarie a centralized spot.
“And I haven’t really looked back,” she said.
Now back in the 15s game, the 31-year-old Alarie is on the eve of her second Women’s Rugby World Cup. She and fellow former sevens star Magali Harvey are two of Canada’s top strike runners.
“Two very good wingers … They score tries, they are threats,” said Canadian coach Francois Ratier. “Game-changers.”
While Canada lost 28-16 in June to New Zealand, Alarie scored a try and gave star Black Ferns winger Portia Woodman fits, according to the Canadian coach.
“She was a nightmare for the Blacks,” said Ratier.
Canada, currently ranked third in the world, opens Aug. 9 against No. 23 Hong Kong in Dublin.
Alarie and Harvey, along with Karen Paquin and Kelly Russell, left the sevens program to return to the 15s team. All four had started in the 2014 World Cup final, when Canada lost 21-9 to England.
Alarie was pressed into action at scrum half because of injury back then. But her forte is on the wing.
“She’s a pocket-rocket. She’s definitely an X-factor,” said Paquin. “She’s super-fast but she’s also very steppy.
“I call her the magician. She can make you think that she’s going to do something but then does something completely different.”
Harvey’s surprising omission
Paquin and Russell were part of the sevens team that won bronze at last summer’s Rio Olympics. Harvey and Alarie were reserves, with Alarie travelling to Brazil with the team.
Harvey’s omission was a surprise to many, especially in Quebec.
Alarie, who was coming back from a serious knee injury, suffered from not having got into any of the sevens World Series events prior to the Games. She is diplomatic about her reserve role at the Olympics but notes: “I was the fittest, fastest, strongest I could have been for Rio so I was happy with that.”
It sounds like she has come to terms with her fate at the Olympics, while acknowledging the conversation would have been different a year ago. “But I think you grow from those and have different perspectives along the way.”
She got important emotional support from her father, who came down to Rio for the Games.
Alarie believes there is room for more movement between the Canadian sevens and 15s team, pointing to how New Zealand transferred some of its top sevens players to the 15s team earlier this year to prep for the World Cup.
“I hope to see in the future some more collaboration on that part and I think it would be beneficial for Canada for our top athletes to be competing on both scenes,” she said.
In returning to the 15s team, Alarie had to give up her carded status. The women on the 15s team do not get such financial support, although some received assistance from their provinces.
As of now, Alarie does not think she will return to the sevens game after the World Cup. She starts a full-time job with the Canadian Sports Institute in September.
And as for her cross-country trek back in 2012, Alarie still has the car which now has some 160,000 kilometres on it.
She also still has the original Post-it note on which she wrote goals like ‘Get carded by January 2014.’ She was ahead of schedule, securing carded status by May 2013.
And memories from the drive live on.
“For the first time I got to see Canada,” Alarie recalled. “And I was like ‘Wow.’ It’s such a beautiful country. I think it adds even to how proud I can be to put on that jersey
“I think everyone should do that road trip.”