Ten thousands miles is an extremely long way to come just to play in an amateur rugby tournament, so imagine traveling from Australia to Cayman with the disappointment of already knowing that the women’s Halloween 7s was canceled.
That’s what happened to Biannca Johnson. When she booked her flight a few weeks before the tournament, it was still on, but circumstances played against her.
Too many teams from the U.S. and Europe canceled as the date approached and it simply fizzled out. Johnson found out before leaving the Gold Coast in Queensland that it was no longer on but by then it was too late to cancel the trip. It’s a minimum three flights to Cayman and around 20 hours of flying, effectively two exhausting days of travel.
“I think it was more disappointing than frustrating,” Johnson said. “Last year’s inaugural Halloween 7s was a great tournament and a good competition, especially for the Cayman girls. So I was disappointed that it didn’t go ahead.”
A natural athlete, Johnson found some compensation by playing in last week’s I-Cup flag football tournament at the Ed Bush stadium in West Bay. Her team, Thunder, won the women’s division and she also kept up with team training with the rugby girls as she intends to return permanently in the near future.
The 31-year-old Australian enjoyed catching up with friends, celebrating Halloween and the start of Pirates Week.
Thunder only had a squad of 12 players yet beat teams that had up to 20 players available in scorching heat. Her teammates were Amber Watson, Antoinette Thompson-Lewis, Bobeth O’Garro, Keisha Solomon, Cassandra Bodden, Tracey Seymour, Lilia Conolly, Nekita Saintvil, Shinette Rhoden, Deborah Thompson and Benicia Thompson.
“We had a great group of girls, very talented athletes and a great coach in Clay Lopez,” Johnson said. “Personally, I had a blast and was named MVP for the tournament along with Cassandra Bodden. Very honored.” Not bad for someone who only joined at the last minute.
Johnson played wide receiver and generally only plays on offense, but because of their numbers also turned out in defense as well as a rusher/blitz.
“I like flag because I can transfer skills from rugby but it’s a totally different sport, it’s more about tactics and deception as well as speed and agility, especially in the positions I play.”
The allure of playing any sport in Cayman for Johnson is that “the girls are very passionate and athletic, I love that.”
She was with Anytime Fitness Wolverines flag side last year when living here and this past season they won the championship.
“I really wish that flag football had their own grounds and clubhouse, something like the rugby club has. Hopefully, they’ll get this in the future as it’s a very popular local sport.”
In Australia, Johnson is playing full contact American football. “Not the lingerie league,” she laughed. “I play for the Gold Coast team who are actually named Stingrays and we are undefeated in the regular season.”
She is a wing back and slot receiver and “absolutely loves it.”
Johnson added, “Being covered in pads and being able to tackle adds a whole other element.”
She lived here for four years and “would come back in a heartbeat, I love Cayman.”
In the meantime, she is concentrating on fulfilling her ambitions to make the Queensland and Australian American football teams. There is a world tournament in Spain in 2017 that she hopes to compete in.
“I also still want to play rugby for Cayman. The girls team has such great potential and we have been doing so well for the past three NACRA tournaments, finishing top 4.
“The next NACRA tournament will also be a World Cup qualifier so I would really love to be a part of that and try to help Cayman qualify.”
Rugby is huge in Australia where she grew up playing the touch format for the Gold Coast and making the Under-18 Australian squad.
She was also a competitive sprinter. “I didn’t play anything else until I came to Cayman and was introduced to rugby by my touch rugby teammates Keswick Wright and Caroline Deegan who convinced me to play rugby 7s. From that I was introduced to flag football.”
She is studying legal services in Australia and when living in Cayman worked at the George Town Yacht Club as a bartender.
Johnson is confident that the Cayman women can one day qualify for the Olympics, possibly the 2020 Games when the sport will be more established here and more Caymanians have experienced the game at the highest level.
“I think it could happen one day, Cayman has some great athletes, like Shenel Gall,” Johnson said. “It’s just hard because America and Canada are paid professional athletes, whereas Cayman players have to balance work and training.
“Also, a lot of Caymanians go away for school, and for expats, you have to be living on island for three years before you can represent Cayman in rugby, so it’s hard to keep things consistent.”
She is resigned to the fact that she will not play for Cayman in major tournaments as she does not fit the criteria. “However, I would do whatever I could to help them get there and compete for Cayman in any rugby tournaments where I am allowed as an expat.”