Returning to the OUA with a new perspective

Nadia Popov’s journey from Queen’s to Canada’s national team and back again

Nadia Popov (centre) scored 42 points in five games this season, earning her an OUA All-Star selection.
Nadia Popov (centre) scored 42 points in five games this season, earning her an OUA All-Star selection.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

While Nadia Popov might be a rugby player with a Wikipedia page and a Pan-Am gold medal, she has midterms on her mind right now. 

After three years away from university, Popov is in her second year of eligibility at Queen’s. 

In 2012, she busted onto the scene at Queen’s, becoming a starter right away in her first year, leading to an OUA Rookie of the Year award and an OUA All-Star selection.   

Following her strong rookie campaign, she was given the opportunity to go to B.C and join Canada’s best on the national team. 

For Popov, taking time off school was never something she had even considered. 

However, that summer, she travelled to England to play for Canada on the under-20 tour. When the tournament ended, Popov knew that while it was a difficult decision, she had to play for her country again. 

When she made the move to the west coast, Popov’s life changed from that of a student athlete to a full-time rugby player. Rather than balancing life as a student-athlete, Popov spent everyday training for nine hours. 

Her initial goal in moving away from home was to make the 2016 Olympic team for Rugby Sevens. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to see that goal come to fruition. After working every day for three years, Popov watched the women she had trained with win a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. 

Popov admitted it was a difficult moment for her. 

“All you want to do is succeed and you look at things in very black and white terms of ‘if I make the Olympics, that’s a success; if I don’t, I’m a failure’.” 

Popov no longer sees success in such terms. 

“I had a successful time [in B.C] so in that sense, it was great to watch my best friends do really well and win a bronze medal.” 

After the Olympics, Popov decided to return to Queen’s to finish her degree. 

“It’s where I started my degree, and for me, there was definitely a sense of unfinished business,” Popov said.

Popov says that the team at Queen’s has helped to transition her back to Kingston much easier. 

“A lot of them are a lot younger than I am, but they’re the next generation of Rugby Canada players potentially, so it’s been really fun to be a part of that and spread some of the knowledge that I’ve gained to them as well.” 

While those closer to her questioned Popov’s decision to return to the OUA as a step down from the competition she was used to, she knew that the league would still present a challenge. 

“It’s just as hard as it was when I was here in my first year.” 

This year, the women’s team lost to Guelph in the semi-finals, meaning that they missed the chance at the OUA and CIS championships. Although the team didn’t reach the levels of success it hoped for, Popov herself had a successful season. She was the Gaels’ top scorer with 42 points and was recently, for the second time in her career, named an OUA All-Star.

And while the season is now over, Popov doesn’t want to plan too far ahead. She’s now focused on her dream of attending medical school, but hasn’t ruled out going back to the national program to train for the 2020 Olympics. 

While Popov’s rugby career is nowhere close to being over, she already has a few highlights to look back on, including her gold medal from the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto. 

Looking back, Popov says the most important thing for a successful player to do is get out of their comfort zone.

“The reality is, when you go outside of your comfort zone, it doesn’t always go how you want it to go,” she said.

“It took me a while to acknowledge that it took a lot of courage to do this and go [to B.C.] and that in itself was something to be proud of. I had to take a look at what failure and success was to me. I shifted it from more of an outcome thing to a values-based thing.”

“I knew that I was going to feel successful every day if I lived by the values that I felt were important to me.” 

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