Alicia Quirk is the energiser bunny of the Australian Women’s Sevens team.
In her own words she loves a chat; but more than that she loves a challenge. Those are the qualities which have led her to where she is today – on the threshold of being a part of sporting history.
24 year old Quirk is one of the multi-talented members of the World number one Aussie Sevens team - and those talents apply on and off the field.
Not only is she a full time professional athlete experiencing her busiest and most successful year to date, she is also in the final year of completing her degree in physiotherapy – which she hopes to eventually extend into a Masters Degree – she’s also learning Portuguese which is considered to be one of the hardest languages to master.
After taking up netball at the age of four, Quirk very quickly acquired a taste for conquering a challenge, and says that drive to do her best is what has brought her increasing success in rugby and in the broader aspects of her life.
“I’ve always got a lot on the go – that’s just me – so I’m a very planned person. I just really enjoy making myself better at being good at things,” Quirk said.
An overnight success five years in the making
2011 is where it all started according to Quirk – not just for her but for the half a dozen women from that time in her life who have now become the core group in the national Sevens team.
“There was about six of us who got invitations to come and try rugby and at that time Emilee (Cherry) and I were preparing for the Touch World Cup, so we decided not to go but Charlotte (Caslick) went to the first camp. Then after the World Cup we also went and tried it out,” she said.
“I had no idea what rugby was really. I’d known of Nicole Beck because I grew up with her playing Touch and I knew she’d won the World Cup in ’09 with Bo de la Cruz and Rebecca Tavo – two girls that we’d played with in Touch – so I had no real expectations.”
From there, she was selected in a squad of 16 which became the foundation of the program that now exists at Narrabeen.
The move to Sydney was not the first for Quirk in plotting her path as a professional rugby player.
Still living at home in Albury while studying at university, the first big step was making the move to Brisbane.
“I was in my final year of Uni but I deferred because I just wanted to go. I moved to Brisbane in 2013 because the coach at the time said if I really wanted to have a crack at the World Cup then I needed to relocate. I didn’t make the World Cup team, so from there I moved down to Sydney in 2014 (when Sevens centralised),” Quirk recalled.
“I felt that I was good enough but I hadn’t got around the mentality of the contact side of things. I knew that I should have been getting picked but I just couldn’t tackle. The move up there (Brisbane) was like a turning point in my capabilities because our coach at the time used to just make me and Charlotte tackle each other in the sandpit out the back of Ballymore. We used to be in there for hours and hours just learning how to tackle.”
“It was fun – I loved it. It was just so challenging. I am a very determined and passionate person but it was so challenging that it scared me because it was so hard. That’s why I was determined to be good at it and why I just kept trying and trying and put everything I could into it. And that’s why I’m really keen now because of all the effort I put in back then. And now at the end of the day, I just want to go to the Olympics,” she said.
The perks of being a Quirk
Unlike a lot of athletes, Quirk really revels in the training because she is always looking to improve.
“It’s the mentality around it I think, but I enjoy it. And I guess that’s always been me; even if it was in school or anything like that I was just a pest at being the best,” she said.
Quirk jokes that her determination comes from being a middle child but knows that the strong family support – particularly from her parents – has been a great catalyst.
“I played netball, basketball and then I played touch – I was athletically gifted at ball sports and I just really enjoyed the training. I was lucky to have parents that would get me up in the morning to go do sprints down at the local - and I would run up hills with Dad,” she said.
“They did everything for me; they have been a massive driving force as to why I’ve been so privileged to be able to have the opportunities to be available for selection. We got to a time when they said okay you’ve got to pick one and that was when I went more towards Touch. I was 16 and got picked in my first international team and I thought well I’m playing for Australia I should probably stick to this one. So I gave up on basketball and rep netball and stayed with Touch and now I’m glad I picked that one because the opportunities that have come from that have been phenomenal.”
For Quirk though, the support does not just come from her own family.
The quality of this Aussie Sevens team isn’t just about the closeness on the field, it’s also about the family support and ties off the field which have emerged from this generation of young women recruited in the establishment of the Narrabeen program.
“It’s not just my family. My housemate is Emilee Cherry and I’ve lived with her for five years now, and her mum is like my second mum; and then there’s Charlie Caslick’s mum and Emma Tonegato’s. So if my parents aren’t there, there are always some parents who are going to be there to look after us and give you that ‘Mum’ cuddle after the games - the family support network is so good. We’ve even had family functions together that Walshy and Scotty have organised – it’s really cliché but we are just one big family,” said Quirk.
It’s been a big year with a strong World Series performance and the team’s elevation to number one plus the preparations for the Olympics, but Quirk – who always has more than one project on the go – is constantly busy with her life away from rugby, although not totally removed, as her workplace has proved to be of great benefit to her future plans.
“Whenever I talk about the scheme of the year – about 2016 being a big year - it’s not just about the rugby because there’s that other side of my life. Being a professional athlete, when I’m exposed to the sporting side of things and the injury side of things, I can’t help not think about my degree sometimes because I’m dealing with physios daily and seeing players’ injuries. So it’s hard not to have both of those intertwine,” said Quirk.
“I’m pretty vocal so I’m definitely in and asking lots of questions. Chloe (Dalton) is another member of the team who studies physiotherapy as well, so we bounce a lot of things off each other and we talk about what we see. So I’m very grateful that I’ve been exposed to such a high level of elite physiotherapy while playing footy.”
And in her spare time ...
With obviously not enough to fill her time, Quirk started learning Portuguese two years ago, partly from her apparent insatiable thirst for knowledge and new experiences but also because it had a practical application.
“From when we first started going to Sao Paulo, I really have enjoyed the language and the culture. I like learning and challenging myself; and then with the hindsight of the Olympics, I just thought it would be good to engage more in the culture and really be a part of the whole experience - speaking with the local people and finding my way around. I’ve been to Brazil three times now where I’ve been able to speak, to order food and communicate,” she said.
But Quirk says she has no intention of stopping at just one or even two languages having already learnt Japanese at school.
“My partner (Waratahs player Matt Lucas) lived in Italy for six months and he was learning as well and got really good at it, so if we ever live overseas I’d also like to learn the language of wherever we are living,” Quirk said.
She explains the thirst for knowledge and language as being for the simplest of reasons.
“It’s the fact that you can’t speak to someone just because you don’t know how. I’m a very chatty person and if I can’t speak to someone or I don’t know what they’re saying, that is something I find hard – it’s a lost opportunity to meet and get to know someone,” she said.
One of the bonuses of playing Sevens for Australia is that the sole platform for competition (outside of special events like the Olympics) is the World Series which involves a high level of travel – something Quirk hopes will expand in the coming years and feed her passions for travelling, learning and experiencing new things.
It would also be good for the sport according to Quirk, who would like to see more rounds on the women’s circuit because this is their profession now, but they can play as few as four tournaments a year.
Domestic tournaments are not always an option for more game time as the calibre of the competition is of no benefit to the main national players and are often utilised instead as valuable as opportunities to blood the development players in the broader Australian squad.
The Women’s World Series has shifted between three to six rounds since its inception in 2013 and that’s not a lot of game time across a year, according to Quirk.
“We’re really champing at the bit to play more often. A lot of us who play all the legs on the World Series only get to play that four or five times a year,” she said.
Rio rugby reps ready
The immediate focus is, of course, on the Olympics in Rio and the teams – both the Men’s and the Women’s – flew out for Brazil at the weekend.
Quirk knows they have done everything they can to prepare for this major milestone.
“I feel like our preparation has been really good and that we’re tapering off at the right time. We had a really good hit out against Japan (recently) and earlier in the year against New Zealand, so we’ve been exposed to that Olympic-style environment, playing over the three days. I think we’ve been exposed to what we need to be exposed to,” Quirk said.
“But you never know until you get there. Hopefully it plays out the way we want it to and we’re in that gold medal match and we win.”