Izzy Cerullo in a black t-shirt with one hand on her hip and one hand on a rugby ball





When Isadora ‘Izzy’ Cerullo began studying at Columbia University she never could have anticipated the surprising turn her life would soon take. “I loved the sciences and was set on being a biology major, doing pre-med and then going on to medical school,” Izzy said. “Then in the middle of that, I discovered rugby.”
Izzy and her two brothers sitting together as babies


Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil and Izzy, who is a triplet, grew up playing soccer alongside her brothers in New Jersey. “I was raised to believe that there is no distinction between what I can do as a girl and what my brothers can do as boys. I even played on my brother's soccer team because I was too competitive for the girls,” Izzy said.
Young Izzy running on a soccer field in a black shorts and jersey


Although she grew up playing sports, Izzy’s parents had clear expectations. “They were very firm that soccer and sport was fun, but I had to focus my energy on pushing myself as far as I could academically,” Izzy said. Then one day, she attended a rugby match at Columbia and was captivated by the energy of the game. "The women's team captain came up to me after and invited me to practice the following week and I was like, ‘Sure, why not’?” Izzy said.
Izzy walking on a rugby field wearing Columbia Univ rugby jersey


She ended up falling in love with rugby and committed herself fully to training, learning the sport and developing herself as a player while completing her degree. "The sport itself is phenomenal,” Izzy said. “You get to use your body, it's fast, it's skillful, it's strategic.” Soon after graduating she got an invitation to try out for the national rugby team in Brazil. “That was not in the plans at all,” Izzy said.


In the lead up to the Rio 2016 Games, the Brazilian Rugby Union made an open call for Brazilian rugby players living outside of the country to try out for their program. “I crowdfunded and asked people to dream an Olympic dream with me,” Izzy said. “I explained that I had never done anything like this before and it might sound a little crazy to jump into the unknown, but I have a dream and I want to go to the Olympics, please help me.”


Within a week she had raised enough money to fund her trip to Brazil to meet the other players, train, tryout and go on tour to compete. After three weeks of matches in Europe, Izzy was offered a one-year contract but was still not guaranteed a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.


For many team sports, the Olympic qualification process is long and somewhat uncertain right up until the final matches. As the host country, Brazil automatically qualified their women’s rugby team for the 2016 Games so they were focused mainly on preparation. With one month to go, the coach brought the team together and named the roster of women who would represent Brazil. “I was so nervous, and I was one of the last ones to be named," Izzy said. “But hearing my name called among the starting lineup of women who had helped pioneer the growth of rugby in Brazil was incredible.”

Izzy and her teammates on the rugby field clapping and cheering at Rio 2016


Participating in a home edition of the Games in front of a sold-out stadium was the pinnacle of Izzy's first Olympic experience. “I remember being lined up in the tunnel and the entire stadium was shaking with people yelling “Brazil! Brazil! Brazil!” Izzy said. “When we were on the pitch, fans would scream our names. We were their team and they brought incredible energy to support us. We joked that we had an extra player on the pitch.”
Izzy running with a rugby ball at the Tokyo 2020 Games


After Rio, Izzy earned a second opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games. Despite the challenges of training during the pandemic, she proudly represented Team Brazil, concluding her Olympic journey at the Tokyo 2020 Games, with the support of her family, friends and community.
Izzy standing in front of the Olympic rings at Tokyo 2020


While transitioning away from being a full-time athlete and figuring out what was next for her, Izzy heard about the LA28 Olympian & Paralympian Fellowship on LinkedIn. “It sounded interesting and ticked a lot of the boxes in terms of getting exposure to an office setting and learning new skills. It also felt like a safe space in terms of doing something that's close to home,” Izzy said. “I sent in a very late application, got accepted into the program and had a couple of weeks to pack up my belongings in Brazil, say goodbyes and then move to L.A.”
Izzy smiling in front of the LA Memorial Coliseum


Izzy joined the Insights & Analytics team through the Fellowship and within her first year, was hired full-time at LA28 as an associate. "It was totally new, I had never studied insights or analytics, but I leaned on my science research background,” Izzy said. She admits it was a steep learning curve, but she felt fortunate for the opportunity to step into a new career through a program that allows athletes to take their experiences and translate them into something beyond sport.
Izzy playing wheelchair basketball


"I'm just grateful,” Izzy said. “The Athlete Fellowship has been immensely important in supporting me and those in a similar stage of life and I’m so excited for 2028. I'm also excited for the Paralympic Games to come to L.A. for the first time. I think the U.S. has a lot of resources that it can put into shifting how we see and value the Paralympic Games.”
Izzy at the LA Pride Parade holding a sign that says 'sport for all'


“The development of Izzy's analytical skills only tells half the story, as she is a tireless contributor to the cause of living and representing the LA28 brand, both in the office and out in the community,” VP of Insights & Analytics, Mike Bernstein said. "She involves herself early and often in various office culture initiatives, emerging as a thoughtful and respected leader of our LGBTQIA Community Resource Group. She invariably raises her hand for every community engagement volunteer opportunity and consistently shows up to serve as an incredible ambassador for the Games. I couldn’t think of a better representation of what success looks like for the LA28 Fellow program.”


Izzy is still influencing the world of rugby by training and competing with the Santa Monica Women's Rugby Club, contributing not only as a player but as a valued mentor and coach during the summer 7’s season. “Rugby to me now is still one of the great loves of my life, which sounds super cheesy, but anywhere I go, the first thing I do is look up a rugby team,” Izzy said.