Ruggers and Rookies

Posted: April 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm, Last Updated: April 9, 2014 at 8:58 am

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This article was written by Natalie Mullins, one of our very own Women’s Rugby Club players.

As a perpetually anxious individual, I have never been one to try new things. I rarely deviate from my standard sandwich order, and I never try out new gym equipment for the fear of making a fool of myself. I am the person that dreads updating their email account because it takes twenty minutes of utter confusion and frustration to find out how to send a new message and I will protest for weeks before reluctantly downloading the newest iOS update.

During the start of my third year of college I had grudgingly made the decision to try new things – or attempt to try new things. I rarely utilize the term love, but I lovefamiliarity, so much so that I have owned the same bedraggled sweatshirt since the eighth grade based solely on the fact that I have owned it for so long (in all reality it would serve better as a rag due to the insurmountable number of holes it has and its lack of a functional zipper). This year has been more-or-less dedicated to pushing my very rigid boundaries, which began with my 3,000 mile, cross-country move from California to Virginia. Since moving across the country I have done many things that would typically fall far outside my personal level of comfort. Over the last eight months I have tried Indian food, gone to a drag show (and enjoyed it), joined a fraternity, made friends (scandalous, I know), and last but not least, joined the Women’s Club Rugby team.

My childhood was not filled with soccer matches or Tee-ball practice. I was not shuttled to and from practice and I never engaged in team dinners. I was the kid that dreaded running the mandatory mile and had to be taken into special consideration when involving class activities. I was the gawky, pale child with glasses and asthma. I was covered in scrapes and bruises caused by my own clumsiness, serving as testaments of my uncoordinated nature. Even the class nerd poked fun at me, sarcastically asking me what I wasn’t allergic to – surely it was much smaller than the list of things I was allergic to. Sports involving fields of grass were out of the question unless I planned on main-lining Benadryl and applying the highest grade of SPF.

The closest I ever came to playing a recognized team sport was my brief stint with volleyball, which I thoroughly enjoyed but did not excel at. I discovered dance during elementary school. Dance allowed me to exercise without dosing up on allergy pills or slabbing on sunscreen. Despite my lack of coordination, I wasn’t half-bad at dancing, this probably had to do with the fact that I did not undertake the art of ballet or something equally as elegant; rather, I chose hip-hop. Needless to say, this was a far cry from a contact sport, but the amount of dedication required was equivalent.

For years I danced on various school teams until school and work and life in general got in the way. A new school and a new state permitted me to try something new. I wish there was an interesting story behind why I chose to take on rugby of all other sports. The thought process went something like this:

Rugby looks cool. I think I’ll try it out.

Some people doubted me, which probably had to do with my habit of rarely following through with my extravagant proposals and a general lack of an exceptionally athletic appearance. Friends’ giggles and half-hearted remarks of support only made me more driven to stick to my plan. I started to waver in my decision until a friend said she had joined the team. A few days later I had passed the team as they were recruiting new girls, and not long after that I found myself sitting near one of the team captains, and I knew something or someone was telling me to take the opportunity (or, if we are being totally realistic, my subconscious desires manifested themselves in a sequence of coincidental events).

I started weighing the pros and cons of joining the team:

It was a chance to get some exercise – at the risk of (extreme) physical harm

Meeting new people (this is a pro and con in-and-of itself)

Rugby would be an outlet for stress and frustration – the “outlet” required one to tackle and be tackled, going back to the risk of (extreme) physical harm

You’ll be covered in bruises and scrapes – all the more reason to wear pants, let’s face it, I’ve never been the type of girl to wear a dress

I heard the team needed more players, and being a club sport, there were no tryouts, all you had to do was show up to practice – doable

So I showed up to my first day of practice expecting to be hassled by a group of seasoned ruggers that had no patience for a scrub like me. I projected that I would throw up 2-3 times on account of the rigorous activity and return home with a black eye and/or bloody nose. Nervous, I showed up on the field expecting the worst, but ready to go. I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by the team, each player showing me the ropes: explaining plays, demonstrating throws, and volunteering as tackle dummies. By the end of practice I was exhausted and had a grin from ear to ear. Everyone had an obscure nickname, which reminded me of every prison film I had ever seen.

We practiced for two hours on a turf field in nine degree weather with winds nearing 20 mph. The water began to freeze in our bottles and we began to lose the feeling in our faces and extremities. I had decided to wear shorts to practice; this was a rookie mistake for two reasons: 1) It was well below freezing outside 2) Turf fields feel like enormous cheese graters in temperatures under 50 degrees. Midway through practice someone stopped me and asked if I was okay, pointing to my knees. I looked down and realized that there was nearly no skin on my uncovered knees, but of course the adrenaline, coupled with freezing temperatures had taken care of most of my sense of pain – until the next morning. The lights on the field went out not long into practice, so we played in the dark, hoping not to be hit in the face by the nearly invisible ball. Other teams sharing the field left after several minutes in the dark (Men’s Club Rugby and Club Ultimate Frisbee – I’m calling you out), but we stayed.

Turf burn and bruises didn’t keep me away. Despite the fact that I felt as if I had tackled a bus head-on the day after practice, I came back for more. After several weeks of bumbling down the field and ramming full-speed into my new teammates the coach said I owed him a game.

Yesterday we met at 6:45 in the morning. Most of us were wearing sweatpants and little to no makeup – evidence of a late night and a reluctant wake-up. We drove three hours to William and Mary and ran through plays during the few moments we were not napping, the whole time my stomach was in knots due to nerves and the two cups of black coffee that felt more like battery acid in a nearly empty, morning stomach. When we arrived at the field I was in a full-blown panic. I didn’t know how to pass, I only knew the names of plays, but not what was to actually happen in them, and I was certain I wouldn’t last an entire half.

I waited on the sidelines with the other subs and rookies, bringing water to the players during timeouts. Then came the half, and it was time for us to prove ourselves. Several, first-game rookies were placed on the field, all looking at each other with eager yet frightened glances. We were placed on the field and the second half started; the ball was up and we were running. Hit after hit we were driving forward, then pushed back. Every once in a while an opportunity would arise for a rookie to prove themselves, and that we did. Don’t get me wrong – there were many times I was completely certain this was my first and last game. My asthma had kicked into full gear and my body was not appreciative the second-to-second, full-contact nature of the game. After a few minutes and several hits into the game the adrenaline sinks in and you don’t feel the pain of a hit unless it really lays you out – which happened on many occasions. Asthma, coupled with an elbow to the rib sent me running to the sidelines with dry heaves. After a minute or two I my brain forced my body back on to the field. Hit after hit we pushed forward, each of us being slammed into the ground at one time or another.

Finally the whistle blew and the game was over. In what seemed to be the most drastic transition all players – from both teams – formed lines and hit one another again, this time as celebratory high-fives rather than high-impact, enraged tackles. Once the lines had filed through we ran to the sidelines and attempted to violently peel off the constrictive jerseys. Form-fitting doesn’t begin to describe the nature of the spandex uniforms, which only seem to get tighter throughout the game. Many of us got them stuck over our heads – who ever designed the neck holes seriously underestimated the size of the average human skull. We ran around looking like cats with their heads trapped in tissue boxes (we’ve all seen the Youtube videos), many of us pleading with the others for assistance as we simultaneously laughed and panicked.

If you had told me this time last year that I would be playing rugby on a whim I wouldn’t believe it. Me, the allergy ridden, un-athletic asthmatic tackling people for fun? Absolutely not. I have never been so happy to be wrong. I can honestly say that Women’s Club Rugby has been the best thing to happen to me in college. I am so blessed to be part of a team as amazing as this one, even if I am just a rookie. I have never met a nicer, more welcoming group of people. These women have each other’s backs, on and off the field.

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Bodies of brick, hearts of gold.

SATURDAY IS A RUGBY DAY

Your New Rugger,

Mullins/ Cargo/ Nat

 

*Article taken from Natalie’s blog located at http://secondhandsweater.blogspot.com