Rugby alumna named to U.S. Olympic team

By Jacqueline Ydrovo '24, MS '25 June 18, 2024

Ilona Maher prepares to walk onto the Olympic rugby field with her teammates

Quinnipiac rugby standout alumna Ilona Maher ‘18 is set to head to Paris for the 2024 Olympics for the second consecutive games.

Before she was an Olympic athlete, Maher was a nursing student at Quinnipiac — something she recently reflected about on the NCAA flagship Instagram account. Maher spent three years on our very own rugby pitch at Quinnipiac after transferring at the beginning of her sophomore year.

“I didn’t have to choose being a great student or being a great athlete. I could do both,” she told the NCAA.

As Paris is fast approaching, she has reflected on her success and the road she has taken to get there.

During her time as a Bobcat, Maher was a vital member of the Quinnipiac squad. In her three seasons at the university, Maher earned a spot on the inaugural collegiate rugby All-America team during her sophomore year, earned the MA Sorensen Award as the National Player of the Year as a junior, was selected to the NIRA All-America and was awarded the Most Outstanding Player at NIRA Championships during her senior year.

Maher helped lead Quinnipiac to back-to-back-to-back women’s rugby national championships.

On June 17, Maher was one of 12 athletes named to the Team USA Olympic rugby sevens squad for the 2024 Paris Games. 

The rugby sevens squad is looking to earn their first medal this summer — previously finishing fifth in Rio in 2016 and sixth in Tokyo 2020 respectively.

In Tokyo 2020, Maher became coined the “TikTok Olympian” when her TikTok showing off the cardboard beds went viral. 

Since then, Maher’s popularity has only grown on and off the pitch with approximately 567,000 followers on Instagram and 1.1 million on TikTok. Maher started off by showing behind-the-scenes and the day-to-day of an Olympic athlete before she began incorporating her messages surrounding body image positivity into her posts.

Maher’s popularity has propelled conversations surrounding body image and body positivity. In her posts, Maher has shown off her own body, stating “This is the body of an Olympian. It’s not perfect. It’s completely lean. It’s not completely toned, but this body is amazing, and it does amazing things for me,” she told the NCAA. 

With such a large following, Maher uses the hashtag #beastbeautybrains which highlights her as an individual. When Maher is on the pitch, she is known for wearing lipstick while she plays. As she told the NCAA: “I can tackle hard and run hard but also you know still feel beautiful and still bring that into it It’s not like you have to sacrifice that.”

After Rio and Tokyo, women’s rugby saw an uptick in viewers and popularity. This year, the sport is looking to continue to see an increase in views and popularity. According to Forbes, there has been “a rising tide for women’s sports.”

Interest in the sport has increased over the years and is expected to continue to grow due to its fast-paced appeal. With Maher leading the way, many young women have credited her for their interest and discovery of the sport, which allows her to continue inspiring future generations of athletes.

Maher and her teammates will depart on July 14 for pre-training camps ahead of the opening ceremony.

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