NICK FEAKES | Sports Editor
Rugby became Lindenwood student Caring De Freitas’ ticket out of the most murderous city in the world, her hometown of Caracas, Venezuela.
A survey by Mexican organization Seguridad, Justicia Y Paz shows that in 2015 Caracas was classified as the most homicidal city outside a declared war zone.
With violence exploding in Venezuela, a Google search led De Freitas to St. Charles, Missouri. De Freitas came across USA Rugby’s website, where she found the email of Lindenwood women’s rugby coach Billy Nicholas.
“What made me come to Lindenwood was the coach,” De Freitas said. “He’s one of the most caring people I’ve ever met. He promised me he would do anything to help me with my future. To this day he hasn’t broken his promise.”
De Freitas, the youngest player ever to debut for the Venezuelan women’s national team, first picked up the game of rugby at the behest of her older brother and role model, Carlos.
“He started playing rugby in college, so I would always go see his games with my mama,” De Freitas said. “He was the one who introduced and encouraged me to practice the sport that changed my life.”
De Freitas was 13 when she joined the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello rugby club in Caracas.
De Freitas was the youngest member of the team by six years. The pocket dynamo frequently found herself matched up against women double her age.
“I’ve never seen a sports community like the one that rugby has,” said De Freitas. “It doesn’t matter what your economic status is, what color skin you have, where you are from, your size or your gender. If you play rugby, you’re a part of my family.”
Her rise up the ranks of the rugby scene in Venezuela came rapidly. Two years later, De
Freitas debuted for the Venezuelan national team at 15 years old, becoming the youngest person ever to do so.
“It felt amazing,” she said. “I felt proud of everything that my family, my team and I have done to get me to that moment. I felt grateful to have the opportunity to play for my country and the unconditional support of my family.”
Despite all the good happening in De Freitas’ life, her country was in a state of turmoil.
Venezuela has fallen into a deep economic crisis spurred by a rising inflation rate that was as high as 800 percent in 2016, the worst inflation reading on record, according to Reuters.
The shortage of money has led to escalating violent crime in the nation, especially in Caracas.
According to TIME, the government claimed there were 18,000 murders in Venezuela in 2015, or 58 homicides per 100,000 residents. In contrast, the United States has a rate of 4 homicides per 100,000 residents.
For De Freitas, the hostility and violence in Venezuela became very real for her.
“A few months before I left, two guys tried to rob me at gunpoint,” De Freitas said. “It’s lucky that I am here and alive being one of the few who have survived these kinds of situations. It’s terrible right now.”
In her neighborhood, water restrictions meant De Freitas only had water for one hour each day.
“At 8 p.m. every night the water would turn on, and whilst I was showering, my mama would be washing the plates, my brother would be filling up bins of water and my aunt was flushing the toilet,” she said.
Luckily, rugby provided De Freitas with an opportunity to leave Venezuela and start fresh in St. Charles.
Such was her impact in the Venezuelan rugby community the president of the country’s rugby federation presented De Freitas with a signed ball on her departure.
Her brother, Carlos, and sister, Carla, had left already for Chile by the time De Freitas arrived at Lindenwood.
Her mother, Ingrid, remained in Caracas.
“My mama being in Venezuela was a huge worry for me and my siblings,” De Freitas said.
“I would be here eating, traveling with the team and enjoying college. My mama would be back home, struggling. My mama’s text at night letting me know that she was home and all right was the best thing for because I would just think ‘I’m so glad she made it through this day.’”
Fortunately, her mother was able to relocate to Santiago in June to reunite with her two eldest children.
Despite the difficulties that De Freitas has faced, she seems to have kept a positive attitude. Teammate Teresa Bueso describes De Freitas as a “beautiful player on and off the field.”
In her first year at Lindenwood, De Freitas garnered a long list of accolades. She was
a key member of Lindenwood’s national championship winning sevens team and was named to the All-American team by USA Rugby.
Nicholas also awarded her the Grit of the Year award. The Grit of the Year award is given to the Lindenwood player who possesses the most “courage, bravery, backbone, spirit, strength of character, will, nerve, fortitude, toughness, determination, perseverance, endurance, guts and spunk.”
“My coach gave it to me because that semester I had two jobs in order to get the money to
pay for school,” said De Freitas. “I didn’t fail any classes, and my rugby level didn’t go down. He was proud of me and knew how much I was working to stay here and succeed as a student athlete.”
Nicholas said Caring is a hard-working player who rises above the challenges presented to her in life and rugby.
“Her determination to succeed is incomparable,” he said.