6. ELLIA GREEN
By Sam Squiers
As a child, all Ellia Green wanted to do was impress her Mum. Ellia joins host & sports journalist Sam Squiers to discuss dealing with discrimination as a kid, switching from athletics to Rugby 7’s, how it felt to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the heartbreaking loss of her mother recently.
Hey, I’m sports journalist Sam Squiers, welcome to On Her Game.
My earliest memory of the Australian Rugby Sevens Team was watching this powerful, super strong and incredibly fast winger tearing up her opposition. Her name is Ellia Green, I published an article about her in 2014 before she represented Australia at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She said in that article, we do everything the guys do, we’re at the top of our game, why wouldn’t you want to watch us? Well people are certainly watching now. It’s been incredible to watch not only the rise of women’s game but of Ellia herself. What first struck me about Ellia is her physical strength, her stature, her muscles, her power. But it kind of makes sense that she was pumping weights as a twelve-year-old every night in her bedroom, to build up her muscles just like her sporting heroes. But it’s her inner strength off the field that makes her even more remarkable. She’s dealt with a lot, fitting in, bullying and the heartbreaking loss of both her parents. Ellia had me in tears as she talked about her mother, I kept thinking, if my daughter ever talks about me the way Ellia talks about her mum, then I’ll know that I’ve done an incredible job as a mother.
GREEN: I had a giant afro, I had this really big crazy hair (Squiers: mmm) and um, which would drive my mum wild. She had to brush it (Squiers: mmm) and um, you know, my mum is a Polish, Polish lady and um, so she’s not, you know, hasn’t grown up with ah, Fijian hair. There’s, you know, her learning to brush it (laughs) and maintain my hair wasn’t the easiest task either (Squiers: mmm). So, I had just this wild afro, kids used to call me Macy Gray in Kindergarten, I was, ah, really different (laughs). I was probably one of the only brown kids in my school, so I grew up on the Central Coast, my brother and I, and, um, yeah, where there was, it wasn’t very multicultural so, um, I felt like I really stood out with my, my big hair as well. So, um, yeah, I was very quiet, very shy and I barely spoke a word.
SQUIERS: Because you were born in Fiji.
SQUIERS: And then adopted from, with, by your parents when you were two, is that right?
GREEN: Oh no, I was adopted from the hospital (Squiers: yeah) so I was adopted from birth and then, ah, my parents moved to Australia in 1995/96.
SQUIERS: When you were how old?
GREEN: I was about, ah, three or four years old.
SQUIERS: So, they lived in Fiji with you? You all lived in Fiji when you were born.
GREEN: Yeah, yeah, we lived in a beautiful place called Pacific Harbour and, um, my parents fell in love with it so they, um, they also wanted us to live there so we wouldn’t forget the culture too quickly and, you know, we were raised in that environment as, um, as babies (Squiers: mmm). So, when I say we, my brother and I, my brother was adopted before me, um, his name is Mitch, in Fijian it’s Mitchell(?) (Squiers: mmm). And, um, we were raised by my English Dad Evan Green and my Polish Australian mum, Yolanta Green (Squiers: nice) and they are just the greatest gifts that God ever gave to me. They gave us a life that I could, I’m just so grateful for and I’ll, I’ll love them forever and, and always honouring them every time I play even when I wake up in the morning.
SQUIERS: Yeah, you have your mum’s name don’t you on your, um, on your wrist as well when you play?
GREEN: Of course, every game I’ve played in my career, um, she’s written on my wrist and I look up to the skies and I imagine her watching me. Um, you know, she’s got the best seats in the crowd, you know, watching from above along with my dad as well. I always picture my mum and dad sitting in the clouds watching, watching me run out.
GREEN: Yeah, yeah, I pray to her every time.
SQUIERS: Very, very special. We’re going to talk about your mum a little later in the podcast, but I want to pick on something you just said about the diversity on the Central Coast when you were little, there was not much at all.
GREEN: (laughs) Yeah, look Central Coast is a very beautiful place, but I’m not going to lie I did get bullied quite a lot at school for having, for just being brown to be honest. Kids would be saying, you need to wash your skin, you’re dirty, you’re, you know, the n word, every word under the sun, and I was, um, already pretty confused as my mum’s white. So, um, at this stage my dad had passed away when we moved to Australia, so my mum was, was raising us on her own and I still didn’t see any difference in our skin colour (Squiers: mmm). You know, obviously she had this beautiful fair white skin and I had this, my brother and I had this brown skin, but I never saw the difference.
So, when I started to go to school, um, the kids were like, why are you brown and your mum’s white? Or why are you black and your mum’s white? And I was like, I have no idea, I don’t know, I, I wish I could tell you.
SQUIERS: Mmm, you didn’t see it as anything, you didn’t see what they saw?
I know, I know, I was really confused for a long time (Squiers: yeah). Yeah, I know my mum was very nervous to tell us (Squiers: mmm) that we were adopted (laughs) and um, finally one day she just sat us down and she read us a book about adoption, it was like a, a picture book and it was a very simple way of saying, like, this is you and this is me and, um, and basically she just, she said it in the most simplified beautiful way (Squiers: mmm), out of, from this children’s book and, um, we really didn’t even care. We were just like ‘cool mum that’s great’, um, like it wasn’t an emotional thing (Squiers: yeah). I think she was emotional (Squiers: she was more concerned) but we never noticed any difference and we were like ‘that’s, that’s a nice story. But I don’t see us any differently because we did not come out of your womb’ (Squiers: yeah, yeah). But, um, and then after that, ah, she told me to go to school and just tell kids that, um, that I just ate way too much chocolate during pregnancy and my Fijian skin (laughs) was the product.
SQUIERS: Because I was going to ask what your mum’s message was to you about dealing with, with bullying, she obviously gave you a lot of comebacks (laughs)
GREEN: (laughs). She had many. Yeah, my mum was pretty, ah, strongly spoken kind of woman (Squiers: mmm), she was, um, yeah, she was just incredible and whenever I came home really upset about being bullied or something, she, she would make me a list of comebacks and then. She also had these, um, lunch bags for us (Squiers: mmm) and my brother was actually really popular, so he didn’t have an issue. But for me, um.
SQUIERS: Did he get bullied?
GREEN: No, he was a cool kid, he was very cool.
SQUIERS: (laughs). You’re very cool Ellia.
GREEN: He’s very cool, (laughs), but I was not, not cool. But anyway, so, she gave me this brown paper bag and she bought them from this special shop because they said ‘Pleasantly Brown’ on them (Squiers: aww) and it was a brown paper bag to put my sandwich in it and she used to write me these a little love letters in there, on my lunch bag (Squiers: oh cute). And so, it said pleasantly brown and she said, the next time someone calls you the n word or black or anything, you just turn around and tell them, you know what I’m pleasantly brown actually.
SQUIERS: Yeah and that worked?
GREEN: It did, I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve never forgotten those bags.
SQUIERS: Was there a time, things changed for you, when um, you weren’t getting bullied anymore or it wasn’t affecting you anymore or did it always affect you?
GREEN: When I got good at sports. When kids could see I could run fast, I was, you know, I wanted to be the fastest in the school, in my age group (Squiers: mmm), I became really competitive and good at sports. So, yeah, that’s when I started to get friends (laughs).
SQUIERS: Tell us about the sports, you found running before you found rugby. When did you discover, discover it?
GREEN: Okay probably running away from my mum because I was in trouble, that would do it. But then, um, I realised I loved running when I did my first ever Athletics Carnival in Primary School (Squiers: mmm) and my mum came to watch. And the thing was is that I always wanted to impress her, like in, whatever I did, I had to, I had to outdo my brother and I had to impress her (laughs). So, um, so when she was in the crowd watching I couldn’t even care where I was running or what I was running, it’s just as, as long as she was watching me (laughs). I think I was in even mouthing to her (laughs) on the side ‘are you watching me?’ (laughs). I, she could read my lips, like, ‘are you watching me?’ ‘Yes, look straight ahead, don’t look at me’, and like the whole way.
SQUIERS: So, when you were running a race and still.
GREEN: Yeah, in the 100 metres I would be running and like I’d be waving at her (laughs) mid-race and making sure she’s watching me the whole, every second of the race.
SQUIERS: Aww sweet.
GREEN: But, um, she always remembers that and laughs about it because she’s like ‘Ellia you need to look straight ahead you can’t be looking at me’. But I’m like, ‘I’m checking you’re not on your phone or not having a chat to, with the other mums’, (Squiers: right, right) you’re watching me. So, yeah that was where I found my inspiration and then I just started winning, like I started winning the events (Squiers: mmm) like when I was young. So, mum put me in the, the Little Athletics, ah, in the club (Squiers: mmm) in Gosford and then my inspiration there was the Happy Meals. So, um, if you won an event (laughs) you got a Happy Meal voucher. So, I, it (laughs) became not just impressing my mum but getting like six Happy Meals on a Friday night (Squiers [laughing]: right). So, that’s kind of where it started.
SQUIERS: Right, how long then before, like you represented Australia at a pretty early age, like you were good straight off the bat. Obviously, naturally gifted with the motivation of your mum and Happy Meals. But how long before you were representing Australia?
GREEN: Um, so, my first, my first, ahh, competition representing Australia was at the World School Games, which was my first international meet, um, in Qatar and that was a massive deal for myself and for my mum (Squiers: mmm). Because to qualify for that for me was massive and then to run in an, an international meet for the first time was insane as well, however.
SQUIERS: Mmm. How old were you?
GREEN: Seventeen I think and, um, I ended up making the final in the 100 metres but came third and um, my mum was, you know, disappointed in me because she knew I could of, not disappointed in me at, at, at the performance because I think she knew I could have done better and I knew I could have done better. So, was always quite tough on me because of, she thought I could lose focus easily, which she was completely right (Squiers: mmm). And, um, but she, she just wanted me to be the best in whatever I did, and she was just such a driver in that. She got me to write up goals in my bedroom all the time, so my, all my walls had all the times I wanted to get, all the distances that I wanted to make.
SQUIERS: Ah, from what kind of age are we talking here?
GREEN: It started in, in maybe Year Four or Five (Squiers: wow, cool), in Primary School (Squiers: yeah) and then all the way through to High School as well. But yeah, I was obsessed and then she said ‘um, what do you want, what do you want to be, what was the biggest goal, what do you see yourself as’ and I said ‘I, I, I want be the greatest athlete that I can be (Squiers: mmm), I want to be the greatest athlete in the world potentially one day’. She said, ‘then write it down and put it on the back of your door and so every day when you wake up that’s what you’re going to look at’.
SQUIERS: So, when you said greatest athlete you were thinking Olympics sprinting, that was your, like what were you thinking?
GREEN: Ah not, I, probably sprinting in,(Squiers: yeah) that’s what I was thinking but I think in my mind I was thinking just the strongest version that, of myself that I could be on a world stage. I didn’t have a particular, it doesn’t say like, you know, the fastest or the, I just wanted to be the greatest athlete that I could be in the world. And, um, yeah, my mum really engrained it in my mind, you know, she bought me every Olympic book, um, DVD, poster that she could find (Squiers: wow) and then also someone else who was a really big (Squiers: mmm) Olympic inspiration was that, um, my Godfather, family friend was Peter Brock, who was a, um, an Australian, yeah (Squiers: racing car driver, legend), yeah, legend, yeah.
GREEN: Yes, was that. (Squiers: yeah, wow). Yeah, so, and he, um, because my dad was a racer as well, my dad was a rally driver (Squiers: ahh), so they were, yeah. So, my dad used to, um, navigate for him as well (Squiers: wow) and vice-versa they worked together on a few things. (Squiers: yeah). But um, I spent a lot of time with, with the Brocks and, he, he went to Sydney Olympics and he gave me the whole Sydney Olympic uniform because he was one of the mentors (Squiers: ahh) for the, the swimming team (Squiers: oh wow). So, he said ‘Ellia, when I come back, he was like, you’ll get the whole Olympic uniform waiting, so you can start, um, dreaming, because you’re going to get your own one day but this is going to be your first’ and (Squiers: wow) I’ll never forget that because I was ten years old. And he said, um, and he said ‘I promise you I’ll be there with you when you go to your first Olympics’ (Squiers: aww, wow).
Yeah, so he was a, also a big driver, um, towards the Olympics and my mum, um, for my tenth birthday arranged for me to meet, um, meet up with Cathy Freeman and (Squiers: wow) and she wrote me a, she made me this massive poster.
SQUIERS: How did she do that?
GREEN: My mum works some miracles (laughs), I have no idea, my mum actually contacted her manager and said ‘it’s my baby’s birthday and she’s an athlete’ (laughs) and yeah she arranged for me to meet up with her and, and also go to her Meet (Squiers: wow). So, yeah, my mum was, you know, pretty special kind of woman, like she’s, she’s definitely the reason why I’ve really gotten, gotten this far.
SQUIERS: It’s why you’re Ellia Green and you met up with Cathy Freeman when you were ten?
GREEN: Yeah. I really was, I was so shy though, I was so nervous, and I was so shy.
SQUIERS: I can’t imagine you being shy, I just can’t (laughs).
GREEN: (laughs) I know, that’s why I’m like, if anyone could see the, the Ellia was when I was ten years old, it was a mute Ellia (laughs).
SQUIERS: (laughs) And what did Cathy say to you when you, when you met up, when you were ten?
GREEN: I can’t really remember, she was asking me about, you know, what I want to do, what I want to be (Squiers: mmm), why I love running and the thing is she’s not that talkative either, like (Squiers: yeah) she’s very, she’s kind of quite quietly spoken. So, between her and I, there wasn’t a lot of conversation (laughs) going on. Because I was so shy or was so shy, so, ah, all I can just remember was staring in her in awe and thinking ‘is this, is this even real life?’ (Squiers: yeah) Am I dreaming? Because.
SQUIERS: Because she was one of your role models growing up?
GREEN: For sure. So, along with all my times on my wall, I also had the pictures of the athletes I wanted to look like and I had, Cathy Freeman was definitely on there (Squiers: mmm), but an athlete that I was completely obsessed with was, um, Carmelita Jeter (Squiers: yeah, yep) which she is one, yeah, fastest women in the world. And she (Squiers: US sprinter), yeah and her body is just phenomenal she had these, you know, she’s had these massive quads and six pack, big biceps and like a, just a beautiful face, her whole look (Squiers: yeah) was just so, so amazing to see. That I used to, used to watch her pictures while I’m doing sit-ups, push-ups (laughs). My mum bought me like my (Squiers: how old were you?), my dumbbell set, like, between ten and fifteen (Squiers: wow). My mum bought me my weights so I could do bicep curls and like, I was really just so obsessed with training.
SQUIERS: So, when you were ten to fifteen, you were, you were already like, you wanted muscles you already identified that, that was the body shape that you, you…
GREEN: I was maybe a bit younger than that (Squiers: wow). Yeah, yeah.
SQUIERS: I was always muscly as a kid and I remember someone saying, ‘you can’t turn a Greyhound, you can’t turn a German Shepherd into a Greyhound’ and being disappointed that I was the German Shepherd and not the Greyhound and. So, it’s only later in life that my muscles are awesome (Green: aww), but you loved muscles and that body image.
GREEN: Yeah, I love, I really loved, um, (Squiers: and Carmelita), training. I want to, I knew I wanted to look like Carmelita (laughs) (Squiers: yeah) like and I even spoke to her for the first time after the Olympics. I messaged her on social media and said ‘thanks, for inspiring me from when I was in, in Kindergarten’ (Squiers: wow) and she messaged me back and I couldn’t believe it, because like she’s, she is the one I wanted to look like from a very young age.
SQUIERS: I think it was when you were sixteen you were second fastest in the world, what then made you (Green: for your age group), for your age group, why not stay the course and stay that Olympic dream and try to be the fastest in the world, try to be like Carmelita Jeter, try to be like Cathy Freeman. Why not stay that course with, with sprinting?
GREEN: It’s was just so random that rugby came along to be honest and I had no confidence in myself that I would actually make it in rugby, It was a very random thing for me and I went to the trials and I had no expectations, I didn’t know the rules, nothing, I really just went to be there for my friend who was trying out (Squiers: mmm), like there was no intentions for me going through with it. So, then when, um, I got a letter saying that they were interested in me I was very shocked and very, very, very shocked and, um, my mum said, ‘well you have nothing to lose Bub, you may as well go try it and if it doesn’t work out you know that you have, you have the greatest dream of athletics’ (Squiers: mmm). So, she said, ‘like it’s just, just go to Canberra for the trial games (Squiers: mmm) and, um, you know, just have fun and then come back to track and field, like come back to training (Squiers: yeah). And, ah, she was very unsure as well and I had no.
SQUIERS: Because it was so new (Green: I had no idea) you weren’t exposed to women playing rugby that much back then either (Green: no), Sevens (Green: that’s right) was a new concept as well.
GREEN: So, yeah, I wasn’t expecting to get picked and then literally from that trial in Melbourne to the trial in Canberra was three months until I debuted for Australia in America (laughs). So, it was like.
SQUIERS: And you didn’t know the rules when you went to the trials.
GREEN: I didn’t know, I barely, I think I ever watched one rugby game or something like before that.
SQUIERS: Yeah. So, you had a crash course.
GREEN: Besides watching my brother play, but like watching an international game or anything (Squiers: mmm), but yeah, I didn’t have, I honestly didn’t have any like real interest in rugby at all.
SQUIERS: Mmm, so, you didn’t know how to play the game, you weren’t down on the rules, you were only there to support a friend, why, don’t offence, why did they choose Ellia Green? Why did you get the call up?
GREEN: Well I still couldn’t answer that for you now that (laughs), I, I got, I did get very lucky to be honest, I was in the right place at the right time, you know, I really wasn’t going to go to this trial. But the thing is, we were running on Fiji time, so my friend I didn’t mention is, she’s Fijian too and Fijian time is, Fiji time is like forty minutes late, so we missed the whole introduction, the whole (Squiers: you did?). Yeah (laughs), they did a whole introduction on Rugby Sevens and there was like quite a lot of girls in the room and we arrived late, they weren’t doing anything too difficult, they were doing passing drills, they were doing jump, jump tests and then they were doing sprint tests. So, I, that was then the only thing I got excited for because I was like ‘yeah cool, you can run, I want to see how I can go against these footy girls.
SQUIERS: Could you jump?
GREEN: Um, yeah, and I, and I used to do triple jump and long jump (Squiers: ahh), so I love, I like the athletics tests, like the testing (Squiers: yeah). So, um, yeah, I, I guess they literally just picked me from that because I certainly didn’t have anything else to offer at this trial (laughs), besides maybe a nice smile.
I knew I was out of my depth being there at my, at that first tournament that I debuted in Texas, Houston and, um, I knew I was out of my depth being there because I still didn’t know the rules very well, I didn’t understand the game, you know, I was playing amongst this, these amazing rugby players that were very experienced, you know, they were a lot older than me and, um, all I could do was run (Squiers: mmm).
So, I said to mum ‘like mum, I don’t think I deserve to be here, like I, I just don’t think that I’m ready, but they think I am’ and mum said ‘you know what Bub when you just, when you get that ball you just run as fast as you can and don’t look back.’ She always says imagine, um, there’s like a big scary dog chasing you or something (laughs) and you have to get, you have to get to me (Squiers: mmm) because I’m waiting for you at the try line. So, she’d, (Squiers: right) she had all these analogies where she would say, um, you know to imagine me at the try line or something (Squiers: mmm) she knows that will make me run, so.
SQUIERS: In that three months, what was your crash course in rugby rules and getting to know the game, what was that like, how did you do it?
GREEN: They didn’t say a lot to me to be honest because the (Squiers: run), the coach at the time knew that I had no idea what I was doing the whole time like. He knew I didn’t know a lot so and that, um, he said, he said ‘so, all we want you to do is get the ball in your hands and run’. That was the, like, that was what they’d just say to me (laughs). So, you know, if I’d, if I didn’t get tackled that was great (Squiers: mmm), if I did, you know, I was making a lot of mistakes, like getting tackled out (Squiers: mmm) or you know, I’d, I’d just, didn’t really understand the game that well (Squiers: mmm) at the beginning obviously. So, definitely, you know, had, had to learn a lot about this game because there’s so many different components to know about in Sevens.
SQUIERS: Yeah, but did you go well in that Houston Texas, um, tournament?
GREEN: Um, yeah, I can’t really, I think we did alright but we weren’t really winning any tournaments at this stage like, New Zealand was winning most of them, we weren’t right up there, I think we were around fifth, sixth kind of (Squiers: yeah) ranking, but um, yeah. I don’t, don’t really remember or, I do remember scoring my first try against New Zealand though.
SQUIERS: Yeah right and that was your first one against New Zealand.
GREEN: And having and doing a ridiculous try celebration which I’ve never lived down since to the girls that were playing at that time.
SQUIERS: What was it?
GREEN: Oh I had the biggest carry on because I was so excited (laughs) and it was my first ever international try and I think I like jumped in the air and maybe even threw the ball in the air like I had the biggest carry on and then I got told if I ever do that again that I’m getting taken off straight away (laughs). So, ah, I wouldn’t stop hearing about it for quite a while (laughs).
SQUIERS: (laughs) Yeah, I bet they still bring it up. Were your teammates understanding, how were your teammates reacting to this girl who’s just come and just knows how to catch the ball and run?
GREEN: (laughs) I think they wanted to kill me to be honest (Squiers: [laughs] yeah). It’s just, it was just very competitive for positions and (Squiers: mmm), you know, and I was obviously the new kid on the block so nobody likes losing a position to the new kid and it, it always becomes a bit more competitive in that kind of environment (Squiers: mmm). So, when it came to contact and stuff, you know, they think. They really wanted to prove a point to me like, ‘listen there kid if you want to, if you want to play with the big girls you have to, you have to be able to take a hit’ (Squiers: mmm). So, I was, they really roughed me up quite early (laughs) and at that stage and there was a completely different team as it is now and they were very, um, extremely physical and they were, they were like pretty brutal kind of girls (Squiers: mmm) from Fifteens backgrounds as well (Squiers: yeah, yeah). So, they taught me, taught me pretty quick (Squiers: yeah), taught me a lesson.
SQUIERS: I published an article on my website Sportette way back in 2014 on you and in that you said, you were quoted, you said ‘we’re number one in the world this season, but nobody seems to know about it’. Take me back to those early days in the rugby program before the Rio Olympics when people didn’t know much about Rugby Sevens and what they thought about women’s rugby.
GREEN: Yeah it was a very different time and I guess this was at a stage where we were starting to do, to do well in the game we were starting to excel and, yeah we definitely weren’t getting any kind of, I guess exposure to it (Squiers: mmm) and um, you know our parents were really confused about that (Squiers: mmm) and also the girls as well (laughs). We were just like ‘this is an amazing game (Squiers: mmm) and like globally it’s so, it’s so much bigger in, in other countries but in, in our country like they’re just not seeing it’ (Squiers: mmm). But then if we were going to like, we played in the London Sevens and there was, you know, it was pretty exciting over there. We played in Hong Kong and not only that, obviously that’s massive (Squiers: mmm), but then if we were to come back to Australia, they wouldn’t really know what we do (Squiers: mmm). So, so that was a little, that was, it was, so that was just a little bit upsetting I guess at the time to know that, um, we hadn’t quite made it yet. So, we, you know, having the Rio Olympics coming up soon (Squiers: mmm) was massive motivation for that too, like, you know, we can create serious legacy for this game (Squiers: mmm) and for, for our sport. So, that was definitely, you know, something that we had in the back of our, back of our minds as well, (Squiers: mmm) to leave a legacy for this game.
SQUIERS: Were there misconceptions about what women’s rugby was like that you received from, from the public or from the media, what was that like?
GREEN: Definitely, yeah, ah, well I’ve been asked some pretty interesting questions, um, about women playing rugby, you know.
SQUIERS: Tell me.
GREEN: They say ah like, ‘oh, so is it the same rules as the men?’ and I was like, ‘ugh, yep same game, like ‘oh so is it, is it, you tackle as well?’ (laughs) and I was like ‘yep we tackle with full contact’ and like ‘oh but is it the same, ah, intensity?’ (laughs) and I was like, ‘yeah there’s definitely the same intensity’. But the one that astonishes me the most is like ‘oh do you actually tackle?’ (Squiers: hmm), I’m like ‘yeah we tackle mate (Squiers: yeah), we go hard’.
But um, yeah it’s definitely come a long way, definitely come a very long way and you know to, to even on the financial side of things to say, you know, that we’re one of the few sports in, in Australia that’s actually on an even ground in terms of men and women getting paid the same when you sign up as a Sevens player (Squiers: yeah), you know, it’s something to be proud of for our sport.
SQUIERS: The article also said that, you said, ‘there is renewed hope that it won’t be long before Women’s Rugby Sevens garners the attention that it has been craving so long, for so long’. For so long with the Rio, Rio Olympics and there was definitely, it almost changed overnight.
GREEN: Isn’t that crazy to hear, from saying that.
SQUIERS: Oh, I loved going back on that old article, I really, really loved it because I’ve loved watching the development of, the, the Rugby Sevens game, but in particular Women’s Rugby. That Gold Medal match was just unbelievable, can you please, for me, describe that moment, the whistle has blown, and you guys realise that you have won Gold.
GREEN: Yeah it was, it seems like such a blur to be honest even when I, I do think about it, like I try to reflect on that amazing, that incredible moment, um, that we shared together and all I can remember is that I don’t look at the scoreboard at the whole game, even at half-time I don’t look at scoreboard.
GREEN: No but I like, I, I probably look like very briefly like to see just for the time (Squiers: mmm), but I don’t like to look at the score because it, I, I get a bit too stressed (Squiers: yeah) sometimes. But I, um, yeah, so, I, I really didn’t know what the score was at the end of the game (laughs), so, so when the whistle blew I had to look up and then I saw ‘oh my God (laughs), we just won the Olympics, we just won the Olympic Gold like’ (laughs). And yeah, but it wasn’t like a, you know like, one minute to go until we win. It was like a, the fulltime whistle blew, and I had to check if we had won or not.
And then it was like, oh my Gosh, it was a real shock of a moment to see the scoreboard like I, I just looked at my teammates and um, they were running towards each other and you know, they, oh they jumped on top of me on the ground and I had three of them, um, suffocating me (laughs) on the ground and then, and then yeah we all linked arms and ran towards our parents. And all I can remember is just staring at my mum and I was looking for the lady with the giant, yellow, um, sombrero hat, like (laughs) and, where is she, she surely. There was, there was such a huge crowd of green and yellow because even Brazilians look like they go for Australia (Squiers: yeah).
So, there was green and yellow everywhere, but then our family section was like, there’s, it was very obvious because they had, you know, all our signs and numbers and everything and yeah that was probably the best part (Squiers: mmm), jumping over the barrier to, into my mum’s arms and um, yeah she is just too happy, you know (laughs) (Squiers: yeah). Yeah, she is, she’s just um, so, so happy, she had a tear in her eye and we just looked at each other and um, she’s said ‘I’m so proud of you Bub, I love you so much’ (Squiers: aww) and she said ‘you worked so hard, we finally did it.’ And it was, it is a we because I’m, I knew that it was always a dream that we were trying to achieve together.
SQUIERS: Mmm, how did life change for Ellia Green, from that whistle onwards after the Rio Olympics when you guys won Gold?
GREEN: When we got off that plane, it was incredible, so, it was the plane only full of the athletes, you know, (Squiers: mmm) and, um, when we stepped off the plane like it was like a seriously special moment. Like I couldn’t believe it, because I, I wasn’t expecting, I didn’t know my mum was going to be there to be honest and I didn’t know my brother was going to be there and my partner at the time.
It was, it was really, really special and, and I can just remember that day, um, the, the Channel Seven were interviewing all the parents and stuff and I can just remember my mum speaking so proudly, um, you know, about, about everything and about how far we’ve come and, you know, just the goals we had achieved together and, to see her face about how she talked about me was actually just, filled my heart (Squiers: mmm). And, um, yeah, I’ll never forget that day and just the amount of support we got from the whole of Australia was incredible. We were in such a bubble in Rio that we didn’t quite realise, you know, what was going on back home, so when we got off that plane you know it was very obviously that, like wow we’ve really done our country proud and this (Squiers: yeah) is, this is, um, this is quite a special moment in history to remember.
SQUIERS: It was almost just like overnight, people’s perceptions of the game had changed, hadn’t they?
SQUIERS: From what you’re describing beforehand and then suddenly everyone’s like Women’s Rugby, how good’s this? Like I’m, we’ve been trying to say this?
GREEN: Yeah (laughs) and I, and it was, it was just insane like coming back and, you know, seeing the, the amount of girls that want to see Rugby Sevens now (Squiers: mmm) and like the participation rates, you know, were just, increased dramatically and, um, it was talked about so much more often and, you know, we’ll getting, we’ll getting more coverage. You know, you could then see our games on, on Fox Sports and, you know, it was just a massive change and it was um, yeah, it was a proud moment to be a part of to be honest.
SQUIERS: I want to, you talked about your mum and, and seeing her afterwards and seeing her in the hangar when you arrived back in Australia, let’s talk about your mum. Take me back to the day when she told you she had cancer.
GREEN: Um, so, she was sick for a long time (Squiers: mmm), yeah. She first got cancer when I was about ten years old in Primary School so I used to look after her, um, when I was in Primary School and spend time in the hospital with her and then yeah, her cancer came back, um, later on twice and so then she got, she got cancer again when I was eighteen and then recovered from that and then this, um, this last, this last time was yeah her final battle with cancer, which was a year and a half ago.
Um, and then she lost her battle then to brain cancer, yeah.
SQUIERS: Her first cancer started out as which?
GREEN: Breast cancer.
SQUIERS: Breast cancer.
SQUIERS: And then.
GREEN: And then lung cancer and then brain cancer.
SQUIERS: When she told you that she had brain cancer, did you think she would get through this or did you think, okay this is serious, more serious than the other two cancers? Or did you not think about that?
GREEN: Um, you know it was really hard to understand it all because she never really showed any kind of weakness signs to me ever. She never showed she was scared, and she never showed to me that she was worried about any of it. And these were serious things, but she never seemed to look all that concerned about it because she didn’t want to worry me, and she didn’t want to worry my brother. But she always made that, made these, um, you know, made this really tough news to tell us, she made it sound very much not of a big deal. (laughs)
SQUIERS: Mmm, it seems as though right until the end she was always trying to protect you and your brother.
GREEN: Definitely yeah, um, she just never wanted it to distract me and my career and everything, and, you know, she started to get sick. She told me, I, I found out that she was going to, she was very unwell when I, at the Commonwealth Games. That was the first time and she couldn’t come to my jersey presentation and she couldn’t travel on the plane anymore, so that was a real turning point I, for both of us, when I realised, she couldn’t catch a plane. And, um, you know, she was so upset that she couldn’t make it to the presentation because she was in hospital because she was getting treatment and that was pretty hard to take but I was more concerned about her, you know, nothing, nothing is more important than her (Squiers: mmm). So, I said, ‘mum I can put rugby on hold and just, you and I can be together’ and she said ‘no, she’s like I’ll, I’ll get more sick if you do that Bub’.
So, rugby was so much more than a game to us and to or, and to me, so, when I say us, I say my mum and I (Squiers: yeah), because it, it gave her strength, she couldn’t wait to watch, um, (Squiers: mmm) watch our games and she would really live for it (Squiers: mmm). You know, she was, she was the number one, my number one cheerleader (laughs) and um, she just loved watching it. You know, she got all the doctors and nurses in the hospital to watch me and, um, and the girls and, um, she went into Palliative Care when I played in the World Cup, that was in San Francisco, the last Rugby Sevens World Cup and, um, yeah that was probably the hardest, the hardest tournament I ever had to play in because I had to leave my mum, ah, knowing that she only had, you know, not long to live, but she pretty much forced me to go.
SQUIERS: She did?
SQUIERS: And you thought about not going?
GREEN: Of course.
GREEN: Yeah, yeah like, um, yeah I, I didn’t think I was meant to go, but, you know, her word is, is, is stronger than mine so she says to go, I, I have to go, she’s the Queen, she’s the woman (Squiers: yeah), she’s the boss lady (laughs). Um, so yeah, she, she made me go but then, um, she was very excited to see me when I got back.
SQUIERS: Yeah, I bet you were too. Take me back to that day when you said your final goodbye to your mum.
GREEN: Um, yeah it was the worst day of my life. It was horrible, it was really, it was very scary. Um, it was just, um, me and her, sorry I better rephrase that, she would hate that. It was just her and I (laughs) and, she’s, she hated, she’s very big on English grammar (Squiers: yeah), yep. She’s a, she’s an educated woman, so, um, yeah, it was just mum and I and, um, and that’s how she wanted it to be. Her and I had, had the kind of connection that, um, that is unbreakable, we were completely inseparable (Squiers: mmm) and when I say that like it was in every way.
She’s, she’s my soulmate, you know, the, literally the love of my life, we spoke on the phone four times a day minimum (Squiers: mmm). I Facetimed every day, um, she’d sing to me in her sleep, like we were beyond mother and daughter, she was just like my angel that God had, had granted me with from birth. So, this was how she was going to leave, leave the world which was, um, in my arms together, holding hands just her and I and, um, yeah, it was, it was very, very scary, scary moment but at the same time, I wouldn’t have picked it to be any other way because it was her and I. And, um, I’ll never, never forget that or the love that she showed me and showed me and, and gave me. I’ve, I’ve never felt love like that before and I never will.
SQUIERS: That is so beautiful. Did you have time to process it, like even though she always tried to protect you and your brother, did you get time to process and to understand that this was going to happen, or did it kind of, in a way, when you were there in that final goodbye, like okay, this is it? Did you get time to realise that, that was what it was going to be like?
GREEN: No, I had no idea of what it was going to be like and to be honest I never thought the day would come because I just thought mum was the strongest woman that, that I ever knew and the bravest and the toughest and the strongest. So, um, I thought this woman was invincible to be honest, so when it got to the stage, I was like surely not, this can’t be happening? I just didn’t expect, I just didn’t expect it, I mean, you can’t, no one can expect this to happen. But my heart just completely sank to the ground when it happened and yeah, it’s taken a long time to, you know, to adjust with my normal life again (Squiers: mmm) after that. It was really, really hard. I was horribly depressed for a long time.
SQUIERS: How did you find that strength and that motivation to continue on with your sporting career after that death? Like how long did it take, did you take some time off the game, did you?
GREEN: Well, I was going to quit for sure, yeah I never went back to training because it was too hard, you know, I was, I was really, really, really depressed and then my, the only reason why I, um, you know, went back is because my brother had this chat with me and I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘if you don’t, you know, continue to play because of this (Squiers: mmm), he said mum would be so disappointed (Squiers: mmm), she would be so disappointed that you wouldn’t do that, if you would do that’. So, um, you know, when he said that, you know it really hit me hard, because I was like, ‘I’m not proud of it, the last thing I would ever want to do was disappoint her’ (Squiers: mmm).
So, um, you know, I had thought about it for a while, I took, I took some time off training obviously and then when I built up the courage to go back to training again my teammates were just like the greatest, they’re the greatest gift to me that I, you know, I’ll never forget when I had that first day back at training. And, you know, they, they didn’t bring it up at all (Squiers: mmm), the only thing they just did, you know, they were just so excited to see me back at training and (Squiers: yeah) they knew I couldn’t talk about it for ages. And the fact that I’m even telling, talking about it right now with you is really, um, a sign that I’ve, you know, I’ve found strength even within myself because this isn’t a normal conversation for me. And I’ll (Squiers: mmm, it’s not?). No and I don’t usually talk about it, but it’s something that, um, you know, I’m hoping it can help other kids that are really grieving over a lost parent or other kids that, not just kids, other people that suffering from depression (Squiers: mmm) or anything because I’m hoping that my story can one day, you know, help someone else because I know I came out of a deep dark hole that I didn’t, I didn’t think I could come out of.
SQUIERS: Mmm, your teammates, you talk about them rallying around you during that time, because you girls, you just, you live together, you’ve gone through so much together, you’ve, like sisters aren’t you like, having to be together all the time and be this team and.
GREEN: Yeah that’s right we spend so much time together, our families are very close as well, you know, they have a group chat which they’re constantly writing on and updating each other. My mum’s very active on that group chat and (laughs) um, they’re always saying, ‘like, you know, game’s starts in ten minutes, they’re kicking off’. Like if, we’re anywhere, where overseas obviously the times are outrageous for watching back home (Squiers: mmm). So, they’re always, um, you know, communicating through that and um, at the Olympics, you know, they stayed, a lot of them stayed at the same accommodation at this big party house (Squiers: mmm) with all the parents and you know my mum was very close with, um, quite a few of the girls’ parents. So, it’s definitely a very close connected group of, um, of families and it just shows how much these girls value family (Squiers: mmm), and their, their reason wanting to perform is, is for their families and certainly my biggest why in life and not just on the rugby field.
SQUIERS: Did it bring you and your brother closer together?
GREEN: Definitely it changed my brother, um, sorry my brother and I’s relationship, um, in terms of that we don’t have a huge family. So, obviously it’s, you know, also losing dad as well that we know we have to, to be close, we have to look after each other, so I, we do try to not have our arguments, you know, but there are a few tiffs here and there, but, ah, at the end of the day I really just, um, love him to pieces (Squiers: mmm). Because, you know, you have to look after each other always.
SQUIERS: What do you want to show girls, little girls about being muscly and being sporty, what’s your message to young girls?
GREEN: I think my biggest message to young girls, is don’t worry about what other people think about you because it’s seriously is going to limit you. Like don’t care about what other people think about you, it’s called FOPO, you know people say FOMO, you’re missing out, FOPO is Fear of People’s Opinions. And if you worry so much about what people think about you, you’re not going, you’re not going to take another step forward because that’s going to really hold you back. So, don’t worry about what your friends are doing, don’t worry about what other people are doing, don’t even worry about what a girl in your team is doing, just worry about yourself. Or, sorry not even in your team, whether in your, maybe in your job or anything (Squiers: mmm), whatever it is, just worry about yourself and what you want to do and how far you want to get and there’s, there shouldn’t be any limitation in that, if you, um, if you’re not concerned about, of what other people think of you or what you’re doing.
SQUIERS: Mmm, good message. What’s next for Ellia Green, is that it for sprinting at Olympics, is that, that door completely shut now?
GREEN: I wouldn’t say completely shut (Squiers: yeah), it might just be slightly ad jarred, yeah, I don’t know. I, I don’t really know what’s in the cards in terms of, um, you know, the next sport for me or anything, you know, like my next main goal is obviously us winning back to back gold in Tokyo. But, um, you know, I’ll always be a sprinter at heart as well, because that’s where I started and, you know, I reckon I’ll still be doing track and field at the old Senior Meets (laughs) when I’m, when I’m eighty. Ah ha, if I can last that long but, you know, but it’s not like I guess fitness and training has become the way of life for me and it, and it, um, for me training and being the strongest version of myself physically definitely makes up for, um, you know, the mental side of things for me because I know I can be very down and feel lonely at times, but I know that when I’m training it definitely, um, assists me with my mental health.
So, that’s always been something, something that I use a lot, that I find that, you know, my coach he works with me very well, I work, I try to work with him as well (laughs) and I drive him wild as well, but, um, he knows that, um, the best environment for me is when I’m training as if I, I’m too isolated I get too, I get a bit depressed (Squiers: mmm). And me being in a training environment is definitely good for my mental health.
SQUIERS: Another good message, if you could go back and talk to your ten-year-old self, what would you tell your ten-year-old, little Ellia Green?
GREEN: I’d tell her to be, to be braver (laughs). You know I was; I was so scared of bullies and so shy and so nervous to be around people because of, because of my skin colour and what they thought of me and the way I looked. And I’d say to her, you know what, be brave because you, you are a beautiful person and, um, be brave and be confident.
SQUIERS: Very brave and you’re very confident Ellia Green thank you so much for coming on On Her Game.
GREEN: (laughs). Thanks for having me.
SQUIERS: On her game is presented by me, Sam Squiers and produced in collaboration with Podcast One Australia, Producer Lindsey Green, Audio Producer Darcy Thompson, Executive Producer, Jennifer Goggin. For more episodes, head to podcastoneaustralia.com.au download the free Podcast One Australia app or search on On Her Game podcasts.
Transcribed by Nadine Maraldo www.gossipcom.com