University of New Mexico graduate and Olympic Athlete Jillion Potter (Exercise Science, ’09) is speaking at UNM’s Student Union Building Ballroom on Nov. 3 beginning at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Born in Austin, Texas, Potter’s family moved to Albuquerque where she finished high school at La Cueva as a standout athlete. She didn't even know what rugby was when she started attending UNM until a chance encounter with some members of the team convinced her to give it a shot. Potter was hooked at her first practice and realized this was a sport that she had the natural skills for. She excelled at UNM and was noticed by USA Rugby and invited to join the under-19 and later under-23 teams. Rugby was providing many great opportunities for her and she realized she could possibly make a career out of it.
In the buildup for the 2010 World Cup, Potter broke her neck during a hard tackle in a game against Canada. After surgery, she spent a year rehabbing, staying in shape and eventually was invited to join the USA Eagles team upon her return.
During the buildup to the 2014 Rugby World Cup Potter discovered swelling under her jaw that was determined to be stage 3 synovial sarcoma cancer. She started chemotherapy immediately and stayed active during her sessions with the support of her family and wife. Rugby gave her the values and drive to get through treatment. Another thing that helped her get through the difficult period was knowing that rugby had been added to the Rio Olympics as a new sport. This gave her additional motivation to stay active during her treatment.
Upon being cleared by her doctors, Potter returned to USA Rugby and earned her spot with the team representing the USA sevens team in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She represented the USA and UNM very proudly starting every game and helping the USA to a 5th place finish.