Rugby sevens makes its eagerly-anticipated Olympic return in Rio de Janeiro this year – and it will be a particularly special milestone in the career of one remarkable player.
Jillion Potter, the captain of the USA sevens team, underwent eight months' of treatment for cancer after being diagnosed with stage III synovial sarcoma – a soft-tissue form of the disease – after the 2013 Rugby Sevens World Cup. Doctors had already found a tumour in her mouth but its seriousness had been underestimated, and she was forced to take time out from the sport she loves before making her comeback last year.
"The entire rugby community around the world offered me so much support, encouragement and belief," Potter says of the response to her illness, which forced her to shave her hair and, at its darkest moments, left her feeling "like I had the worst flu imaginable every day". Backing from her team-mates, who made videos for her from their matches around the world, helped in particular and, after completing her treatment last spring, she felt motivated to battle her way back into the side ahead of the Games.
Potter succeeded, helping her team book its place in Rio de Janeiro next August by beating Mexico 88-0 in June – meaning that, after rugby sevens' 92-year absence from the Olympic calendar, the USA will be able to defend the title last won in 1924.
Few would back against Potter leading them to another memorable triumph. Even before beating cancer, she had shown her remarkable ability to beat the odds. A rugby union player since her university days, she broke her neck before the 2010 World Cup – a potentially career-ending injury in such a physically demanding sport. She switched to the seven-a-side version of the game and became her team's natural leader, captaining them again last weekend as they contested a Women's Sevens Series event in Sao Paolo.
That was won by Australia, who beat Canada in the final, but Potter and company will be back. "Rugby teaches you values that really prepare you in life, on the pitch and off the field, and really set you up to overcome challenges," she says. "It has given me a real gift that has taught me about hard work, toughness, integrity and all the things that play a role in how I beat cancer."
A medal in Rio de Janeiro would be the perfect postscript to Potter's inspirational tale.