Bianka Avila: footballer, student, worker and visionary
- Bianka Avila is an attacker in the Paraguay squad
- She also works in a gym and is taking a vocational physiotherapy course
- Avila set up a football academy with her dad
Paraguay international Bianka Avila is studying two degrees and holding down two jobs, though she describes one of them as just a hobby. Having just turned 22, she knows what she wants, and there is a fair chance it will involve a football, which has been an ever-present in her life.
“It all began when I was eight, when my father was coaching at a football academy and I started to go along with him,” the Sol de America and Paraguay forward told FIFA.com. “I wanted to give it a try one day and he let me. Since then, all I’ve ever wanted to do is kick a ball.”
For a while Avila was the only girl in the team, which in those days was nothing out of the ordinary in a place like Itaugua, a city about 30 kilometres from Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital. “People said things, but it didn’t bother me,” she explained. “I showed I could play and they started to respect me.”
That respect extended beyond the field of play: “The parents of little girls began to see that it wasn’t a problem and it wasn’t long before more of them were playing. There weren’t a lot of them but it became a mixed team in the end, and that was really pleasing.”
Bianka Avila (Paraguay)
Paraguay's Bianka Avila is seen during training with the national
27 Nov 2020
Paraguay’s Bianka Avila is seen during training with the national. Photo: courtesy of APF
Paraguay's Bianka Avila is seen at her gym. Photo: courtesy of Bianka Avila
27 Nov 2020
Paraguay’s Bianka Avila is seen at her gym. Photo: courtesy of Bianka Avila
Football became an integral part of Avila’s everyday life, but with a condition. “My parents said to me that if I didn’t study, then I wouldn’t play. It wasn’t negotiable,” she said, laughing. Nevertheless, when her first opportunity came along, she had no option but to put her schoolwork to one side.
“There’s a club, 12 de Octubre, and they were looking for players in the newspaper one day,” she said. “I was doing homework with some friends at my house and they asked my mum if I could go. She agreed.
“I got through the first two training sessions and in the third they put me straight into the first team. I was only 15 and I couldn’t believe it. And we got promoted to the first division that year.”
As she built her football career, Avila continued with her studies and got a job waitressing in a bar: “It’s just part of the sacrifice you have to make when you’re a woman and you play football in Paraguay. It’s getting more professional but there’s still a long way to go.”
Then, after receiving her first call-up to the national U-20 team at the end of 2017, she had to give up her job: “I was happy and I was able to go to the first training session because I had the day off that Monday. They wouldn’t let me go to the next two, though, and on the Saturday people from the national team stopped by my house to ask me not to miss any more.”
As she went on to explain, it was worth giving her job up: “They tried me out in several positions and eventually played me in midfield or out wide on the right. First, I made the pre-tournament 30-player squad for the South American Championship, then the 25, and then I was in the final 21.”
2018 was a year to remember. “I won a silver medal at that South American Championship, a gold at the South American Games in Bolivia, and I went to the U-20 World Cup in France,” said Avila, who scored a goal in her team’s final match in Bolivia. Not content with all that, she also had her best season to date with Libertad in Paraguay’s top flight.
Though Avila did not play at the , it still proved a useful experience for her: “It was a whole different level in terms of preparation, but the experience of just being there was a turning point in my life.”
She got the call from the senior national team last year, having moved to Sol de America. Though injury has prevented her from making her debut, she has had plenty to keep her occupied. “I’ve always loved working out and helping others, so I started a vocational physiotherapy course,” she said. “I’ve got six months to go and then I’ll do another two years for the B.A.”
Then, last December, another ambition of Avila’s began to take shape: founding a football academy: “We set it up with my dad. We had 60 kids, aged eight to 14. I love working with boys and girls, but the pandemic stopped us in our tracks.”
The mothers of those young children opened another door for her. “They wanted to start training too, so we started doing fitness workouts on a little side pitch,” Avila said. “We’re doing them at home at the moment because of COVID-19. And that’s how the Team Grety Gym got started. It’s more of a hobby than a job, though.”
Avila spends her mornings working at another gym: “I finish at 11am. At 2pm I’m working out to stay in shape for when we start training again, and at 5pm I do the gym class at home.
“I use the ball a lot. The idea is to make it fun, so they get a good physical and mental workout and get all that stress out of their systems.”
An admirer of her compatriot Jessica Martinez, who is currently with Real Madrid, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Avila has not lost sight of her main goal in life: “I want to succeed in football. I want to play abroad and nail down my place in the national team. Going to the World Cup with Paraguay would be the ultimate. The talent is there but that’s not enough on its own.”
Though still only 22, she is looking far ahead: “I’ll play as long as my body lets me. Then I’ll go and help people to lead healthy lives, but in a responsible way. That’s why I’m studying and training.”