“Ready, ready, HIT!”
Our flat line of defense steps up as Temple University’s scrum half passes the ball. One of our forwards makes the tackle. The rest of the forwards flock to the site of the tackle and form a ruck. We win the ball. Now our scrum half passes the ball to our fly half. The ball moves down the line of backs until it finally reaches me on the wing. I turn on the speed, run parallel to the sideline, and dodge one tackle and then another as I cross the 22-meter line. The rest of the team trails behind, supporting me all the way, until I finally cross the try line, touch the ball to the ground, and score during my first game as a member of the Ithaca College Renegades women’s rugby team.
Though I’ve always been an athlete, I didn’t start playing rugby until college. I played soccer throughout my childhood. But after years of yelling coaches, team cliques and drama, and weekends lost to tournaments and games, soccer had burned me out. I quit playing the summer before my freshman year of high school.
Upon entering college, however, I ached to get involved in sports again. I briefly considered playing intramural or club soccer, but I never made any real effort to get involved. Wrapped up in classes and adjusting to college life, I drifted through my first semester at IC without registering for any sports teams.
One day in March, a friend mentioned that she was going to a meeting for the women’s rugby team. I had heard about the sport of rugby -- and its rough reputation -- during my days as a soccer player. Finding the physical contact of soccer to be the most thrilling aspect of the game, I figured rugby would be tremendous fun. I skipped lunch to go to the meeting and sign up. Two weeks later, I attended my first practice for the Renegades rugby team.
I walked into that practice much more nervous than I had been when I initially registered. Had I forgotten that I had no idea how to play rugby? Had I forgotten that I was terribly out of shape? The only girl I knew on the team wasn’t even at the first practice. I wondered how accepting the current players would be of newcomers like me -- in my past experience, the veterans always take awhile to accept rookies.
The team put all of my anxieties to rest the minute I joined in the warm-up. Immediately, two of the seniors enthusiastically introduced themselves. I expressed my nervousness, but they assured me that I would learn how to play rugby safely and get in shape in no time. Most important, they said I would have fun. And they were right --five practices later, I played as a wing in my first game against Temple University and loved every minute of it.
I have never experienced anything as intense as the rush I get when playing rugby. The chaos and physical intensity of the game feed the energy of the team. Adrenaline surges through my body with every tackle and run. Ruggers live for the throbbing of muscles the morning after a game; we display our bruises and cuts as proud battle wounds. Sustaining a broken bone during my second season didn’t deter me from playing -- it only increased my eagerness for the start of the next season.
The best aspect of my rugby experience, however, isn’t the game; it’s the Renegade team. We accept and trust one another, and every woman on the team brings a unique skill to the field. Whether she’s tall, short, skinny, big-boned, fast, or slow, every player contributes to our success. Negativity doesn’t exist. Positive encouragement from the coach and other members of the team meets every mistake and expression of frustration. Support is the name of our game -- a Renegade never goes anywhere alone. When you join the women’s rugby club, you don’t just become part of a team; you become part of a family.
Even after breaking my ankle this fall, I’ve cheered my fellow ruggers on at practices and games, offered support when they needed encouragement, and helped to fire them up. Watching them jog off the field after games, weary with accomplishment, I can think only about how much I can’t wait to join them again next season.
Originally published in Fuse: Rucking Renegades.