By Cassandra Moen
They were the roughest, toughest, and strongest ladies out on the athletic fields. I watched as the women’s rugby team tackled, grabbed, pushed, and yelled at each other. They were lifting their teammates and driving the scrum into the other team. Some had blood dripping down their knees and elbows. Others had cleat marks across their thighs and biceps. Amazingly, she got up and never missed a beat. The fans cheered as a girl found an opening and ran the ball down the pitch. A wave of excitement rose as she touched the ball down in the tryzone. I heard the strength and effort made by the team in the scrums and rucks. The energy and intensity were infectious. To make the game of rugby even more interesting, the girls were laughing and smiling with the girls that tackled, grabbed and kicked them! They had bruises, sore and sprained muscles and bloody noses from these girls. Why were they acting like they were great friends and not wanting to fight each other? I was hooked. I approached the captain and joined the team that day.
Being an athlete for my entire life, I thrived in physically challenging settings and loved to be part of a team. The bond built by playing and experiencing with others is incomparable. Knowing that there are others depending on you is a responsibility that is missed in individual sports and often taken for granted. This game was beyond physically challenging and being on a team. There is a bond stronger than any other in rugby. There is something grounding about relying on your teammates to protect you from possible injury and you being responsible for protecting them. You are not just on a team; you are a rugger.
I showed up for my first practice with my cleats, water bottle and nerves in tow. What was a I doing? I’m crazy for doing this. The temptation to walk away was overwhelming. I bit my lip and I approached the group of girls and froze. My mouth dried up and a rock formed in my throat. What was I doing here? I don’t belong here. “Hey! You’re the new rookie, right?” I shook my head and opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. “Come join us! We are about to start.” She smiled and walked me over to the group. After doing a brief introduction, we dove into the warm-up and practice.
As I was finally getting the hang of the throwing-the-ball-backwards thing in something called a steep line, it was announced that we were going to start the scrimmage. Man, what was I getting myself into? I was designated as a wing and took my position on the field. My confidence rose as I experienced what a game is like and made my first tackle. It was halfway between horrible and not so good. “ Great rookie!” said the captain. “Let’s kick it out to the rookie this play.” Here it was; my chance to show what I was made of. The play started and the fly half passed the ball out to the outside. She took it up the field a few yards and passed it back to me. I caught the ball and started to run as fast as I could. Out of nowhere, I was hit on the left side. I dropped the ball and squealed like a little girl as I hit the ground. The play stopped and everyone ran over to us. “Are you OK?” “ Good hit girl!” “Here. Let me help you up.” I looked up and the girl that tackled me was holding her hand out to help me up. I stood up and looked down at my feet, embarrassed that I was so incapable. “You did better than I did on your first hit. Good job,” said my tackler with a smile. The rest of the scrimmage consisted of me being outrun, elbowed in the face and sat on the scrum.
I could barely walk at the end of the practice. My muscles were sore, I had a welt on my knee and my brain was reeling with definitions, terms, and positions. I flopped on the grass next to my bag and put my head between my knees to catch my breath. I felt a pat on my back and heard someone sit down next to me. I looked up and the captain said to me, “Great job today, Rugger. Come get some food with us.” I got up and staggered all the way to the dining hall. I played with these girls for the next three years and still “go and get food” with them.
When I say I played rugby, I get a lot of different reactions that usually start with shock then the a flood of questions. A very common question is, “You don’t look like a rugby player.” What exactly does a rugby player look like? Instead of trying to fit a mold of what one should look like, I showed up as myself. The girls adopted me into their circle with no hesitations or reluctance. They taught me the game and gave me support, no questions asked. There was no judgement on my athletic ability, sexuality or physical stature. The girls did not care if I was scrawny, muscular, or overweight. It did not matter if I was a soccer player, softball player or a dancer. It did not matter if I was good at Math or liked to read. There is no specific mold of what a rugger looks like. Although, I got my butt literally kicked that first practice, I had experienced something that most people do not. I was a member of a group that openly and gratefully accepted the differences of every member of the team. I wanted to play. That was good enough for them.