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'It's still kind of blowing my mind' | West Meck grad Naya Tapper ready for Olympic experience

Naya Tapper, a West Mecklenburg High graduate, is set to represent the U.S. in her first Olympics on the women's rugby team.
Credit: Ap Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — West Mecklenburg High School graduate Naya Tapper is going for the gold at the Tokyo Olympics as part of the United States' women's rugby team. 

Tapper, who graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said preparation for Tokyo has been a rewarding experience, even as COVID-19 has put the Games at risk with multiple athletes testing positive for the virus

"I'm getting prepared for one of the biggest moments of my life and one of the greatest achievements that anybody can have," Tapper said. 

Tapper is anxiously gearing up to wear Team USA across her chest for the first time in Olympic play. The Beaufort, South Carolina, native placed fourth in the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens. This year, she's hoping for gold. 

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"It's still kind of blowing my mind every day when I do have a chance to sit still and actually thinking about what I'm getting ready to participate in," Tapper said. "I'm super proud of myself, super excited, a little nervous and anxious."

It's been a long year waiting for the Olympics, which were pushed back due to the global pandemic. Tapper said a team sports psychologist has helped keep her teammates focused on what's important. 

RELATED: Tokyo Games boast equal gender participation for first time

"He's available every day, all day, whenever we need to talk about something that may have happened at training, or talk about something that each individual is personally dealing with," Tapper said. 

She said staying mentally focused has been her top priority, especially as coronavirus concerns linger in Tokyo. Ultimately, Tapper is hoping to inspire girls who look just like her that they can make their dreams come true, too. 

"I think rugby in the U.S. is one of the most diverse sports we have in terms of where people come from, the color of their skin and who they choose to love," Tapper said. 

"I'm obviously really grateful to be a part of that community but all really proud to be a Black woman in a quote-unquote "white man's sport" out here killing it and doing it alongside people who look just like me."

Contact Ruby Durham at rdurham@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

RELATED: VERIFY: No, Olympic athletes are not required to get vaccinated before the Olympic Games

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