The Venezuelan collegiate rugby star raising the bar on the field, while raising awareness off it
MÁS EN ESTA SECCIÓN
Over the past several years, residents of Venezuela have had to endure immense hardship, from geopolitical unrest and discontent to ongoing violence, hyperinflation and much more.
A native of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, Caring De Freitas became all-too-familiar with the state of turmoil that has plagued the South American country.
During an interview with AL DÍA, she detailed how she’s had to endure spending two hours in line at the grocery store due to the government’s control over the country’s limited food production.
“They have these huge lines because obviously everyone wants food,” she said. “Those lines go on for hours and hours, and sometimes you don’t even get food at the end because they run out, just because the government is not producing enough.”
While living in Venezuela, De Freitas witnessed her family car being stolen, experienced her brother being kidnapped, and at age 15, was even robbed at gunpoint.
In the midst of the widespread oppression and violence going on in the country, De Freitas, like many other residents of Venezuela, had to find an escape, both mentally and physically.
She eventually found one in the form of rugby.
“Since then, my life changed in a way because the girls that I would play with were 20 years old, 25 years old, even 30 years old, and I was the only one who was like an actual teenager,” said De Freitas.
“Every time I would go to practice, I would be taken away from everything that was going on in Venezuela, socially and politically, and I would just focus on the sport... I think that’s what kept me going for such a long time,” she added.
De Freitas’ talents on the field would quickly move her up the ranks. After only a couple years of playing, De Freitas was recruited by the Venezuelan Women’s National Team, and began traveling internationally to tournaments throughout Argentina, Brazil, Chile and other South American countries.
At 15, she became the youngest player to ever play for the Venezuelan Women’s National Team.
“It was great,” she said about holding that distinction. “I felt like I had a lot of responsibility on me because I was not representing only myself, but also I’d be representing my family… my country.
“It was just surreal. I was so proud that I had made it because I was like, ‘there’s all these other women that had been playing for so much longer than me, but for some reason, they chose me.’ So, I was very proud and excited to be playing at such a young age,” she reflected.
During her senior year of high school, De Freitas realized that rugby could also be her ticket out of Venezuela.
Eventually, she connected with Billy Nicholas, the head coach of the women’s rugby team at Lindenwood University.
After receiving a scholarship from Lindenwood, De Freitas ultimately made the decision to travel alone to St. Charles, Missouri, leaving behind her family in Venezuela in August 2016.
Now 20, the student-athlete will be going into her junior year at Lindenwood, where she is double majoring in computer information systems and marketing. She plays wing for the Lindenwood women’s rugby team, which has qualified for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship tournament.
Despite having only been back to her native country once since leaving, De Freitas remains very committed to Venezuela. She carries a Venezuelan flag with her to all her tournament games.
As she progresses through both her studies and her athletics career, De Freitas will continue to tell her story. Despite being nearly 3,000 miles away, she remains conscious about ongoing events in her home country and works to educate others about what is happening there.
“Every opportunity that I have to talk about and raise awareness about what’s going on in Venezuela, I’ll take it,” she said.
Just a couple months ago, Venezuela endured the largest power outage in the country’s history, which affected their hospitals, clinics, facilities, mobile signals and more.
“It’s just really frustrating what’s going on, but hopefully we’re going to get out of this situation by the end of the year,” De Freitas said optimistically.
De Freitas still has immediate family members in Venezuela, including her grandparents, father, aunt and cousins, so the situation there still affects her.
Her mother was still residing in Venezuela when De Freitas first arrived to St. Charles.
“Luckily, my sister and my brother were lucky enough to get a job in Chile, so they moved there, and eventually they took my mom out of Venezuela because we’re all trying to escape from it,” she said.
After finishing college, De Freitas hopes to continue playing the sport she loves in the U.S., while also helping those back home.
“I don’t want to leave the U.S. in the few years to come,” she said.
De Freitas hopes to learn as much as she can about rugby and teach young children back home to learn to love the sport, as well.