MANDY Marchak tried to break the rules when she went in for her photo shoot for an upcoming calendar featuring players from the Canadian national women's rugby team.
"I was very nervous," Marchak told the North Shore News. "I walked in there trying to wear a little bit of clothing and they were like, absolutely not."
Marchak, a standout with the North Shore's Capilano Rugby Club for several years, relented.
"OK, let's do this," she said, and the shoot was on. The finished product will be available June 15, with funds raised from calendar sales going to support the national team and women's rugby in Canada.
"It's not just about the calendar, it's about us and what we've worked for," said Marchak. "It's a very unique way of making people aware of women's rugby."
That awareness, said Marchak, is what this is all about.
"It's not really about fundraising right now," she said. "It's a way of marketing ourselves. We have a lot to be proud of."
When it comes to rugby sevens, a scaled-down version of the 15-a-side game that will make its Olympic debut in 2016, the Canadian women certainly do have a lot to be proud of. They may just be the best team in the world. And Marchak is undoubtedly one of the best players on that team.
Whatever exposure the calendar brings to Marchak, said longtime Capilano and Canada teammate Erika Smortchevsky, is well deserved.
"She's a game-breaker at the international level," said Smortchevsky. "Her running ability and her ability to be able to break through tackles is so strong for the women's program. Just her strength, playing against other women she can break tackles, she can usually break through a couple. When you can do that in the sevens program you're going to score tries because there's nobody else left behind you. In a sevens game you have to be a really strong tackler because there's nobody else defending behind you. So being as strong a runner as she is, if she breaks one tackle, usually she's gone."
Marchak grew up in Winnipeg and, after graduating high school, moved to North Vancouver in 2005 to further her rugby career. Capilano's reputation was well known even in faraway Manitoba.
"I was coming to play for Capilano, (that) was my sole purpose," said Marchak. While playing in the tough B.C. premier league, Marchak developed her own skills to national-team levels while also helping Capilano continue to rack up strong results. It was a mutually beneficial union, said Smortchevsky, one of the founding members of Capilano's women's program.
"It gave her confidence, she got lots of playing time, she got good coaching," she said. "She was a driving force on our team. She was a game breaker, absolutely. The impact that Mandy brings to the field is very noticeable."
These days Marchak splits her time between training with the national program in Victoria and playing for a team in England in one of the top women's leagues in the world. For Canada's sevens team, Marchak has helped lead an incredible run that included most recently a win at a tournament in Amsterdam earlier this month that featured the top 12 national teams in the world. Marchak scored two tries in the dying minutes of the final to help Canada erase a 19-5 deficit and defeat the United States 26-19.
"It's funny because when we won our very first tournament in Vegas (in 2011) I think we all were very, very surprised, like, 'Oh my God, Canada never wins anything,'" said Marchak. "And then I think continuing on and winning five tournaments in a row, it was definitely something like, 'We can do this. We're a threat now, people are competing to beat us.'"
Their success has the Canadian women dreaming of Olympic medals in 2016 on the biggest stage women's rugby will have ever known. The dream is all the more improbable considering Marchak couldn't even conceive of having rugby in the Olympics when she first started playing.
"No, never - not with where women's rugby was at the time," she said. "That's something that almost anybody, any athlete who is trying to achieve a goal, that's what they're always working towards. Just the fact that it's a part of the Olympics now it's pretty exciting that not only are you doing it for the love of the game - because that's all you were playing for before - it's like you have this goal, this dream, this exciting world-wide event to work for."
With that goal in mind Marchak and her teammates are ready to bare it all for the good of the sport. And once she peeled off that final layer for the photo shoot, Marchak ended up having a blast.
"We like to say it's classically nude," said Marchak with a laugh, adding that all the photos were tastefully done by a discreet, professional photographer. "I'm really excited. The experience was really fun, it was kind of like a bonding experience for me and my teammates. I'm excited for the final product."
For more information on the calendar visit www. nswtcalendar.com or follow it on Twitter: @NSWT_ Calendar.