I did not grow up loving this sport. I did not grow up even knowing this sport existed. So why is it that I dedicate hours otherwise spent catching up on schoolwork (or sleep) to a game that involves repeatedly getting tackled to the ground? The answer has to do with who’s doing the tackling.
For me, rugby is a family as much as it is a sport. As wonderful as scoring tries and winning games are, they’re not the reasons why I play. I don’t step onto the field in order to make tackles and score tries, I step onto the field to make tackles and score tries for my team. For my family. When the whistle blows for the start of games, I know that everyone else on the team is playing for the same reason: each other. Frankly, it’s the only reason I’m able to throw myself into a player who is much taller than I am and who is sprinting towards me at full speed. I know my teammates will be there to help me out, backing me up. It’s a huge part of what makes an otherwise daunting sport so enjoyable.
Ten minutes into my first practice, I got a bloody nose. We had been doing a simple passing and catching drill, and all I had to do was run up and catch the ball. A three-season athlete in high school, I felt pretty confident in my abilities. I was also terribly eager to impress my newfound teammates. When my turn came, I ran up and prayed that I wouldn’t trip myself. Apparently I’d forgotten to pray for working hands, however, because the ball soared straight through my outstretched arms and into my face. At this point, I figured the only thing that could save me from looking like a complete fool was to pick the ball up off the ground and keep running as if nothing had happened. Which is what I did, even when I realized my nose was bleeding. Eventually, one of the captains pointed out the fact that I had blood running down my face. I pretended not to have noticed (impossible—there was a lot of blood) and was taken off the field to clean up. I don’t know why, but I decided in that moment that I was a rugger.
Almost immediately, I realized that this group of people was something special. I had never before been on a team that was so welcoming and so supportive. It was clear that everyone genuinely cared about each other’s well-being, on and off the field. As a newly arrived first-year, it was very comforting to see so many familiar faces around campus. I could hardly ever go anywhere without saying hello to a fellow rugger. It is because of this amazing group that I fell in love with the sport so quickly.
I could go on and write more about how much I love this team and the sport of rugby. I could choose to only focus on the moments that have been 100 percent enjoyable. But that would not be telling the complete truth. As with anything, there have been times when rugby has not felt fun. Times when I have felt too overwhelmed by work, by life in general and/or by trying to figure out My FutureTM to go to practice. There have been certain moments when I’ve felt unable to positively contribute to the team due to the state of my mental health. And in those moments, I find it necessary to remind myself why I play. Because inevitably, no matter what kind of rut I am in, I remember just how much this team means to me. It doesn’t take long before my teammates pick me up and my passion for the sport is renewed.
This process of re-falling in love with rugby can be sparked by something as simple as a practice. There’s something about the interdependence of the sport, the fact that everyone has to rely on each other and work for each other, that creates a sense of shared accomplishment, even during practice. It can be incredibly cathartic. The day after the 2016 presidential election, I felt as if I was just floating through the day, constantly suspended between a sense of shock and coming to terms with reality. It was cold and cloudy. I didn’t feel like doing much, let alone going to a tackling practice. Throughout the course of two hours spent at the Farm, though, something happened. Somehow, rolling around in the mud with my friends made the world seem a little less bleak, a little more hopeful. It was exactly what I needed then, and it proved to me that rugby could be remarkably healing.
When someone asks me why I play rugby, or when I need to remind myself, I often think about that practice. Sure, the physicality of the sport probably lent itself to the sense of healing (yay endorphins!). But more than that, the restorative aspect of that practice, or any practice, came from being around teammates who care so much about one another and coaches who dedicate so much to the sport and to its players. Knowing that I am part of such an extraordinary group of people reassures me that no matter what is going on in my life, no matter what state the world is in, I have a family right here on campus, a family that looks out for one another and cares for each other unconditionally. I realize that sounds cheesy, but it’s cheesy because it’s true. That is why I play rugby—specifically why I am a part of Vassar Rugby. It’s family, and I could not imagine my life without it. I’m glad I don’t have to.