Portia Woodman-Wickliffe seeks a goodbye gold medal at the upcoming Olympics(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images for NZOC)

For 12 years, her speed, fight and intimidating scowl defined women’s rugby.

After 256 career tries, two Rugby World Cup championships (2017 and 2022) , two Rugby World Cup Sevens titles (2013 and 2018), Olympic silver in 2016 and a groundbreaking gold in 2021, New Zealand Black Ferns superstar Portia Woodman-Wickliffe said that the upcoming Olympic competition will be her last in international play.

She will be one of the many out LGBTQ athletes competing at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

“Rugby has provided me more than a career, it’s given me a second whānau in my sisters, opportunities to see the world and experience things I never would have otherwise,” she announced via Instagram last week. “One last dance with my sisters in Paris.”

The wild thing about her journey? Rugby was her second sport. She began as a netball prospect with potential. She made the switch when rugby was added to the Olympic program for 2016 and New Zealand sought to get a women’s seven side ready for it.

The rest was history.

Woodman-Wickliffe will run through you or run by you. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The stats only tell part of the story for one of the out LGBTQ athletes at the Paris Games. There are the 13 tries at the 2017 World Cup, one of which was nominated for World Rugby Try of the Year. She has a record 20 tries in World Cup competition and that was in 15-on-15 play.

In sevens, she is nearly unstoppable. “The space she was allowed to roam on a sevens field often felt unfair,” RNZ sports analyst Jamie Wall wrote. “A fair chunk of her incredible 256 career tries came without a hand being laid on her.”

If you did catch her, you probably ran into her stiff arm or even just that intimidating look that says, “Do not even THINK about trying to stop me.”

Her style has some comparing her to All Blacks 1990s-era icon Jonah Lomu, another player whose size, strength, speed and skill seemed other worldly. As a child, Woodman-Wickliffe saw highlights of Lomu, and saw a goal to aim for.

“If people call me that or compare me to Jonah Lomu, that’s incredible,” she said in an interview with The Daily Gazette last month. “Because I still feel I’m a little netball player trying to play rugby.”

Photo Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Her impact on the sport can be seen in growing number of fans, and the growing importance placed toward the women’s game. Even in a nation where the sport is revered, women’s rugby has had to fight for it’s space.

Her impact and legacy left an imprint on this writer. She one of the few performers in any sport I would be willing to get out of bed at 4 a.m. to watch play. I did that during the Black Ferns run to gold in Tokyo.

I plan on making sure her matches are appointment viewing in the Olympics ahead. One rarely gets a chance to see a “Greatest Of All Time” stand down when they are still at the peak of their powers and then take off the boots, take the hand of loving spouse and former Black Fern Renee Wickliffe, and walk away perhaps with a second Olympic gold medal.

Noted rugby analyst and commentator Alice Soper summed up an icon’s impact bluntly and best.` “When our game was kicking into another gear, we needed a player to rally around. Portia answered the call. A perfect role model of all that our sport could be.”

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