She has the finesse of a gymnast, the versatility of a pentathlete, the strength of a shot putter, the muscular endurance of a rower and the explosiveness of a bobsledder. Jack of all trades and master of many, fifth-year Western Mustang Sara Villani perfectly exemplifies what it means to be an all-around athlete.
Villani has a long history of competing in high-level athletics — not just in one sport, but across a variety of seemingly dissimilar activities.
Coming off a stellar season with the varsity track and field team, Villani is now Western University's record holder in the women’s shot put. She is a former multi-event athlete who, in the last couple years, has transitioned to specializing in throwing. From March 7 to 9, Villani competed at the U Sports national championships and, indicative of her success over the season, performed incredibly. Not only did she break the Western record with an impressive throw of 15.45 metres, but she also brought home a silver medal, only bested by Canadian Olympian and national record holder Brittany Crew.
Though the competition got off to a rocky start as Villani faulted her first throw, she kept an open mindset.
“It was a test of mental strength,” said Villani. “All it takes is one good throw, and had I let myself be self-deprecating, I would not have thrown the 15.45 metres throw.”
It is this exact mental strength that aided Villani’s success when she competed at the RBC Training Ground program in June of 2018. This RBC-sponsored competition involved high-intensity athletic skills testing that was compiled and ranked. The purpose of the program was to identify athletic talent that could translate into Olympic potential. Part of the process was being scouted at the competition by various national teams that were in partnership with the program.
With her highly developed and wide-ranging skill set, Villani not only broke a record in the strength testing division, but was crowned the overall winner of the Ontario regional final. The overall winner was ranked among the combined top 100 male and female participants that competed at the finals, and she decisively came out on top. Needless to say, a variety of high-level national teams were interested in pursuing her as a potential athlete.
Of these teams, Villani chose to commence preliminary training with coaches from the Canadian rowing and bobsled teams. Throughout fall of 2018, Villani tested the waters on her rowing abilities and practiced both in the gym and on the water.
With a full course load, a hectic training schedule for track and field and the added task of learning to row, Villani demonstrated true eloquence in time management and discipline. She attributed her high level of discipline to her early days as a competitive gymnast.
“Having that time discipline and conditioning from a young age has been extremely beneficial,” Villani explained.
Though her rowing schedule slowed coming into the winter, her time obligations to sports only grew. From Dec. 16 to 22 of 2018, Villani was invited to a bobsled piloting school hosted in Calgary at the WinSport Performance Training Centre. Villani described her experience at the piloting school with much enthusiasm. She is hopeful that, with a few more training camps under her belt and continued practice, she has the potential to make Team Canada in the future.
Interestingly, it is not uncommon to see elite shot put throwers transition to bobsled. A former Western shot putter and now Canadian Olympic gold medalist in bobsled, Alexander Kopacz pursued bobsledding after his throwing career. Throwing and bobsledding involve a lot of the same focus on having reactionary explosiveness, which is a highly transferable skill between the two. Evidently, it would seem that Villani already possesses many of the necessary athletic attributes needed to actively pursue bobsledding.
Whether it be track and field, bobsled, rowing or all of the aforementioned, it is clear that Villani’s pure athleticism speaks for itself. With such widespread success over a number of disciplines, one would wonder, what is her key to success?
Villani answered, “Just have fun and enjoy what you are doing. When you stop enjoying yourself, you need to take a step back and re-evaluate things; don’t be afraid to take that step back.”
Villani’s approach to athletics resonates because sports were originally created for enjoyment. As demonstrated by Villani, finding enjoyment in and having a love for one’s sport is an undeniable factor in finding a high level of success.