Posts tagged Rugby
I was walking down the street today on a bright, crisp Boston morning on my way to meet up with teammates for our afternoon match. I wasn’t more than a few steps out of my friend’s apartment before I heard someone calling to me. As I turned around, I saw an older man donning a New Zealand All Blacks rugby shirt coming towards me.
“I’m sorry for stopping you, but I couldn’t help but notice you were wearing rugby gear!” he said, in his thick Kiwi accent, and continued excitedly, “I haven’t seen any rugby gear since I got here!”
And so ensued our impromptu rugby gush fest. His excitement effused from his huge smile as he caught me up on the World Cup and his son’s future as an All-Black flanker. He asked about my match, my position and my rugby history, especially since rugby is so relatively unknown in the US. Countries like New Zealand have rugby running through their blood before they even take their first steps on a pitch or throw their first pass. However, no matter the background, when rugby players are brought together, all barriers go out the door and all that’s left is mutual respect and curiosity. Whether it’s recalling old memories or comparing old injuries, the conversation is always a good time.
From the outside, rugby often seems violent and unnecessarily dangerous, especially in a country accustomed to tackling only when wearing significant padding. I even experienced these sentiments at first, opting to try ultimate frisbee my first semester at Harvard rather than just sign up “to get injured” on the rugby team. Thankfully, I eventually made my way to the team and finally saw rugby for what it is: absolutely amazing.
Rugby is not just a sport. It’s a lifestyle, a community, a spirit that brings players together in any place and in any time. There is a certain rugby code that permeates all aspects of the game. The game requires the athletes to respect it, and thus, by default the opposition. I always remember building hatred towards my opponents in high school like it was a source of strength. Now, we focus on the competition alone, and know the team that performs the best will end up on top. We may tackle our opponents with aggression and strength, but we genuinely wish her a good game after the final whistle, and most likely will spend time together over food and drinks afterwards.
As for my teammates, well, it’s hard to really describe exactly what they mean to me. We respect and admire each other, I find motivation in their smashing hits, blinding speed and explosive strength, but I also respect them as human beings. Women with incredible resilience and strength of character, who know what it means to work hard and what it means to be a teammate. We always know we have each other’s back- it’s built into the game. Every play includes supporting teammates, no one is ever left alone. When we take the ball into the opposing team, our teammates will be right there to push the defense off. When we sprint through a gap, we have runners fill in on the right and left. In short- we are a unit, tied together by the teamwork that rugby naturally demands. There’s every kind of body type, playing styles and skills, but we are one on that field, all 15 of us, and we need all 15 to win.
Many of us have been asked at different times why we choose to play, but for those of us who take the field, it’s a no-brainer. The game has been hugely formative in our lives and our teammates and coaches have been hugely influential as mentors and friends. I’ve learned about what it means to be tough, yet graceful, confident, yet aware of personal vulnerabilities. You learn it might not be possible to do it all yourself, but that’s why you support your teammates on and off the field. Even after your body can no longer keep playing, rugby is still a presence your life. It’s impossible to forget what it has given you.
When I go back to watch my old college team play, I feel the appreciation for the years I learned what it meant to be a rugby player and am excited for the girls who are just beginning their journey. Now, when I circle up with my team before we take the field, I feel a surge of pride for the women bound in that huddle. With the “oogies” and the “oys” to the fury pride combo, we pump ourselves up with cheers, ready to take the field. We aren’t just a team, we are family, and we feel it coursing through our veins. We know where we belong.
I came to Sri Lanka with a desire to see and learn about the culture of the country and be able to shed my identity as just another tourist. Since Sri Lanka is a former British colony, rugby is pretty popular. I decided that the best way to do that would be to connect with local rugby players, to get to meet people with whom I’d have something in common. I just happened to get way more than I bargained for!
From the first morning in Sri Lanka, I started asking around. “Do you play rugby?”, “Do you know anyone who plays rugby?”, etc. On my first train ride to Kandy for the Perahera festival, I found out that there was apparently a mens game the following day, but my informant didn’t have many other details. I went on with my travels, keeping my goal of finding rugby in the forefront of my interactions. When I was looking for a hotel in town, I asked the man at one of the first I visited if he had any connection to rugby. He had a slightly confused look on his face, wondering why I might be interested, but after I shared that I actually was a rugby player and actually did coach in the US, then we started chatting. Not only did he help me figure out when the game was, but he actually took me to the game and got me VIP access to watch!
And from the pavillion, we watched the action (please ignore my screaming!):
And some more:
And an amazing try scored by Kandy:
It felt great to be back in the rugby world, having been sidelined since I broke my finger, then traveling, I had taken too many months off.
After the game, I met their South African coach and he invited me to a practice a few days later. I was excited for the opportunity to watch and learn, but after a phone conversation beforehand, I realized he was expecting a bit more than an observer… he invited me to guest-coach! I figured I’d just be running a short activity. However, when I showed up two days later, he asked what I was planning to do. “Excuse me?” I asked. I quickly realized, he was putting the entire practice in my hands. We discussed things a few minutes, then he left to sit on the bleachers and it was up to me. Their coach had simply told the men that they had a “surprise” that evening, not that I was coaching. Needless to say, when I came out in front of the crowd, they were rather confused.
After some good wrestling warm ups, contact drills, and even a brief introduction to American football, we made it through the 2 hours. The guys were hard-working and respectful, and made it a lot of fun.
After my coaching debut, I still came back and watched another practice and started training with the guys during the day to help me prepare for my upcoming season. My whole rugby experience from start to finish was a unique way to have a cultural exchange, and was the source of a few who became my Sri Lankan friends. I will definitely stay in touch with the team, and hope to have more opportunities to meet and work together in the future!