The weather in Fortaleza, Brazil is very predictable.
Located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, it rains, yes, but the temperature almost never dips below 22 C and rarely climbs above 30 C.
But for Bruna Mavignier, that wasn’t enough to keep her around.
“Living abroad was always a dream for me, but didn’t have the time to go until university. This scholarship came up called Science Without Borders. I could decide Canada, U.S., England, but I decided Canada because it’s known to be a nice place to live — it’s quiet, it’s peaceful, people are very welcoming to international students.”
Mavignier is in her fifth year attending the University of Manitoba, leading the Bisons women’s soccer team in scoring heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
But she didn’t play organized soccer growing up. In Brazil, schools don’t have a lot of greenspaces, so kids often play indoor soccer, aka futsal.
“It’s smaller, smaller ball, 5-on-5 instead of 11-on-11,” Mavignier explained. “It’s a faster game. You have unlimited subs, you play four minutes and then you sub. It’s similar to hockey, you sub all the time. It’s short sprints, speed and agility. Shots are small distance, quick toe punts.”
So despite not being used to playing soccer on a huge field, she took the leap when she arrived in Canada, convincing Bisons coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas to give her a shot.
“I had no idea how I would do in soccer, but I knew I was OK with futsal,” Mavignier recalled.
“I told her I have a dream to play professional soccer, to keep playing the sport I love, and that I would love to have a chance to see how I do. I guess it worked out.”
Mavignier made an immediate impact in her rookie season in 2014, tallying eight goals in 12 games. 2015 was even better, with six goals in six games, but her body was not co-operating, battling hip and groin pain.
“It happened mostly because of the high volume of training and my body is not adapted to soccer. It’s turf, it’s different running. I was playing through this but then I tore my ACL. It was probably the hardest moment for me because I was having an amazing season.”
She worked to get back on the pitch for the 2016 season, but she wasn’t the same, and then tore the ACL in her other knee, costing her the entire 2017 campaign.
“I just had to be super tough and never give up, try everything I could to get better. Finally, everything worked out for this season. I’m not going to say I’m 100 per cent. I’m not as fast anymore. I still have many pains. But I learned to be smarter, other skills to be able to fit in with the team again.”
Mavignier has already completed her undergraduate studies, working on her masters in kinesiology. She’s yet not sure where she’ll go once she’s done with school, but she knows she wants to stay involved with the game she loves.
“My dream was to play professional soccer, but with everything that’s happened to me with injuries, I for sure need to have a plan B. My plan B is to work with sports, if I can with soccer, as a strength and conditioning trainer.”
Mavignier visits home every couple of years, but wants to stay in Canada, whether that’s in Winnipeg or more soccer-rich markets like Vancouver or Toronto. But one thing is certain: she’s fallen in love with the country she now calls home.
“I’m a permanent resident and I plan to get citizenship here. People are very friendly with you, they try to help you as much as you can. I really like that.”
And the weather? She’s learning how to cope.
“My first winter, it was pretty bad. At first it was fun — I had never seen snow so it was super cool. After a month, I was like, ‘Oh my God, take me back home!’ The winters are coming earlier and earlier, but your body adapts to anything, and with passion, I can play anywhere.”