Brazilian Rugby League World Cup aspirant Cintia Corona has heard all the jokes about her surname – but there is deeper pain to the jibes that goes beyond her 650,000 dead compatriots.
The man from which Cintia inherited her name, father Joaquim Batista Corona, passed away in a tragic incident six months before the gifted ballplayer set her sights on a plane to England.
“I hear a lot of jokes about my last name, but I understand it’s meant in a jovial way,” says Cintia, whose full surname is Menegardo Corona.
“Before the pandemic, the jokes were about Corona beer, but now when I say my surname people look at me scared.
“One time a telemarketer rang me and, when I gave her my name, she thought I was wasting her time. I had to explain and prove that my last name really was Corona and it was no joke.”
The resilience of the Brazilian women as they prepare for an unprecedented World Cup appearance is hard to measure.
One in eight people in Brazil have either contracted or died from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the past two years. A spike at the start of February saw an astonishing 287,000 new cases recorded in a single day.
The number of people who have reported contraction of COVID-19 in Brazil is larger than the population of Australia, while the number that have died is double the combined populations of Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.
“Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who have lost loved ones because of COVID,” says Cintia.
“And the saddest thing is that they couldn't say goodbye to them like I could say goodbye to my father, because if you die of COVID, your coffin is sealed and family members can't get close.
“In terms of rugby league, the postponement of the World Cup ended up breaking the training rhythm we had built up and completely changed priorities, understanding that people have responsibilities outside sport.
“I believe it is an opportunity for us to improve more. I look at it like we gained a year. The goal is to arrive more prepared and unified.
“We constantly face challenges in Brazil to play rugby league. This is simply another obstacle to overcome.”
A chemical engineer for Lafarge Holcim, coincidentally a sponsor of women’s rugby league in Australia, Cintia has an enviable sense of dedication and perseverance.
At 158cm and less than 60kg, she regular faces players who are twice her weight, gaining inspiration from almost identically-sized Maddie Studdon, Australia’s diminutive 2017 World Cup-winning halfback.
Capable of playing hooker, half, five-eighth, fullback or wing, Cintia’s greatest accomplishment is arguably her ability to push on after the shock death of her father in mid-2020.
Joaquim was a bank clerk and prominent member of the Vitória Catholic community who sadly passed away aged just 63 after falling from a ladder while making repairs in his garage.
“He suffered a head trauma that triggered other complications. It was all very fast and sad,” Cintia says.
“His departure greatly reinforced the importance of telling people you love them, how much you love them, and how fast and fragile life is.
“In the midst of all the sadness, the positive side was his accident saved the lives of several people.
“My father required nine blood bags and the hospital asked us to help organise donations to replace some of what he used.
“In the end, several cities in the state mobilised together in his name and we were able to replenish numerous blood banks that were in short supply.
“The blood bank attendant said to us ‘This Joaquim Corona has saved a lot of people. I wish I knew him, because he has motivated a lot of people’.”
Aside from enduring an arduous emotional journey, Cintia has also travelled great distances geographically to further her rugby league ambitions.
As someone who first played rugby sevens while in college, she later travelled to play rugby in the USA, before converting to rugby league in 2019.
She played for last year’s Brazil Rugby League women’s runners-up Vitória Rhinos, where it was an 11-hour drive in each direction for most fixtures.
“Unfortunately sports other than football (soccer) end up having difficulty establishing themselves in Vitória,” says Cintia.
“And as Rugby League arrived in Vitória only a short time before the pandemic, the challenge has been multiplied. But every sacrifice is worth it when you enter the field and adrenaline rises.
“I was very happy with the (Rhinos’) performance last year. There were girls who had never played before and lived in different cities, yet we managed to come together as a team in search of a common goal.
“The best part was playing with great friends. It made the environment much lighter and more pleasant.”
While anybody who has witnessed Cintia’s goal-kicking and passing style will recognise her as a rugby union convert, she has a surprisingly diverse sporting background.
Most revealing of her personality is that, despite her short stature, she was the sole female on her school basketball team in her youth.
“Yes, I played basketball, volleyball and futsal,” Cintia says.
“I didn’t really care that I was the only girl. I worked on the things that would be to my advantage.
“Because of my height, I repeatedly practiced my three-point shooting and used that as my weapon against the boys.”
Cintia has a belief that both rugby codes have opened up many opportunities for her and taught her “values, discipline, respect integrity, passion and solidarity”.
And despite some difficulties when first adjusting to rugby league – namely the play-the-ball – she is thankful to those who have encouraged her throughout an immensely tumultuous period.
“First of all, I have to thank God,” Cintia affirms.
“He gave me the strength to overcome all the difficulties of the last few years.
“Secondly, my family and friends, who have supported and sustained me through all the difficulties.
“I also especially thank (Vitória captain) Karina Araújo who not only introduced me to rugby league, but managed to unite the Rhinos girls last year. Her leadership was essential for us.” You can support Cintia and players like her by visiting Brasil Rugby League’s Chuffed donation page.
Author: Robert Burgin, Brasil Rugby League