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Rugby Player From Vt. Aims to Win Gold at Tokyo Olympics

Ilona Maher was a standout athlete at Burlington High School

NBC Universal, Inc.

A woman from Vermont’s largest city will be competing in the Tokyo Olympics, which start July 23.

“I think we have built a great team—a really strong team that has a chance to medal and to get that gold,” Ilona Maher of Burlington said of the U.S. Women’s Rugby Team.

Maher, 25, is now practicing in Southern California, where she is gelling with her fellow athletes from around the country before they compete in rugby sevens, a seven-on-seven form of the sport, at the Summer Olympics in Japan.

“I love meeting people—meeting people from different countries, different sports,” Maher told NBC News. “The Olympics really brings people together.

Maher played field hockey, basketball, and softball at Burlington High School before joining a rugby club team. That’s the sport she really came to love and excel in at college, first for Norwich University then Quinnipiac University, according to her USA Rugby biography.

Maher’s Team USA bio says she is a registered nurse. She has a large following on Tik Tok under the handle @IlonaMaher, where she’s been sharing the spotlight with her US Rugby teammates—including another New Englander.

Kristi Kirshe of Franklin, Massachusetts was among the US Rugby athletes who recently appeared in a Tik Tok video Maher posted.

“I only eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches on game day,” Kirshe told Maher’s more than 60,000 Tik Tok followers, as part of a video revealing surprising facts about the future Olympians.

“It brings a tear in your eye,” Mieneke Maher, the athlete’s mother, recently told NECN & NBC10 Boston’s Vermont affiliate, NBC 5 News, in an interview about watching her daughter reach for her Olympic dreams.

Maher’s father also played rugby, her Team USA bio notes.

Maher’s loved ones will, of course, be closely watching the Tokyo Olympics, hoping to catch a particular moment her parents have noticed in some of her other games.

“Sometimes, they pan to the athletes,” Mieneke Maher recalled, describing for NBC 5 video she saw of previous games. “And they’ll be singing and you can hear Ilona singing boisterously along with the national anthem, so it makes you very proud.”

The future Olympian does have some familiarity with Japan. She previously volunteered as an environmental ambassador between Japan and Vermont, according to her Team USA bio.

“I’m definitely excited to just play and finally get to play some different competition,” the future Olympian told NBC News. “And play a sport we all love, and be able to show my family back home what we do.”

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