This week my rugby coach, Lori “The Ripper” Staples, asked us to answer 2 questions as a sort of ‘homework’ for practice. She told us to answer each question on one side of an index card. Of course, my tongue was not made for brevity, so I joked that I was going to need a little more paper. The team response was that I should blog about it. I think they were kidding, but here I am.
Before I start answering these questions I have to tell you a little bit about my coach and about the rugby culture altogether. First of all, my wonderful coach was once a player for my team. That is fairly typical. What you have to understand about rugby players is that we never truly leave rugby. Once you play, once you join the community– it is just in your blood. You are a forever changed human.
Once a rugger, always a rugger.
Rugby is the kind of thing you live and die for. I have joked that rugby is my eternal love, but every joke comes with some truth. My relationship with rugby, my life with rugby, has been the happiest relationship of my life. That relationship, of course, like all relationships, came with ups and lots of downs, lots of growth among regressions.
To quote a famous man I adore, Drake, “‘Cause I live for this, it isn’t just a hobby like that.”
This is the same for my coach and for all of my rugby community. Rugby, unlike some sports I have participated in, is all about community, loyalty, and respect. We respect ourselves, our teammates, the other team, and the likes. That respect trickles down from the top. Our coach ensures this, not only because we reflect her, but because we reflect her team, and OUR team. She put her blood on that field just as we continue to (and she continues to in a numbers pinch.)
I am honored to grow as a player with all my rugby heroes, including Lori and the players that are moving up to coach. I feel my shifting body preparing to play this season, but also preparing to support the growth of our future.
So here is my homework assignment after more than a decade under the influence of rugby.
Question 1: Why do you play rugby?
There are a million reasons I continue to play rugby after all the black eyes, like this famous one.
Here are my top 2:
Reason 1: I am celebrated for my body the way it is.
You see rugby was the FIRST place I was ever celebrated for being BIG.
I was always the BIG GIRL in sports, but that certainly wasn’t celebrated in my sporting life before rugby. No, I was only celebrated when my yo yo-ing body found it’s way down fifty pounds. Then, and only then, would teammates and coaches give me some praise.
In rugby, it was different. I was no longer called “fatso,” that name still ringing in my ears in my nightmares.
I can still hear the way the girl on my softball team in high school teased me about my speed, making the entire team laugh. That was what being BIG was before. Being BIG meant the cool girl on the team snickering about my speed, snickering about my BIG body.
Not in rugby. No, in rugby, every body is celebrated. Every body is respected.
In rugby, I was actually recruited and I could see these girls were excited about my size. They were excited to invite me in, someone BIG, ‘big’ now having this whole different tone than it ever had in my life. The tone, the way they said, “You’re BIG!” It made me sparkle. BIG was good here… and I love it here.
In rugby, I was appreciated for my size, my body. Not only that, but I was accepted for my mind, the way it is. I was accepted though sometimes my mind would fight me and playing was hard. I was accepted though my body would change depending on where my mind was.
No matter what body I showed up with, it was accepted and that in itself IS rugby to me.
Reason 2: In rugby, players change and adapt to include people.
That is just the way rugby is. Rugby is inclusive and based on respect. It always has been. In fact, rugby is the most inclusive sport I have ever participated in and I have tried out the whole lot.
We ruggers include and lift up people of all creeds, bodies, and abilities.
I have waved my hands along with my team to signal the end of play when a player on the other team had hearing issues and couldn’t hear the whistle. I have switched players to other teams to ensure a fair game and ensure we are all growing as players. I have seen players in league games encourage opponents in their first game and stop during play to teach them something so they would play safe. I have had teammates run to my aid when my panic attacks were so bad I didn’t know where I was. I have agreed on continuing with uncontested scrums in big games because a prop went down with no replacement. (Non- ruggers, just continue reading past that last one but I promise it makes sense.)
I believe in everyone finding the sport or whatever the thing is that makes them happy. Rugby players and the rugby community have just always been the kind of people/place I want to be a part of, because they encourage everyone to play and find out if rugby is that thing for you.
Question 2: How does rugby make you feel/ How should rugby feel?
Rugby should feel like home.
Playing rugby to me has always made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than just myself. It has always made me feel at home and at peace with finding people like me. Rugby is acceptance. Rugby is love and community.
In college, I made some of the closest friends on my 4-year ‘foster team’, the SUNY Albany Women’s Rugby team. This was my first real home on the pitch. We came together to play, to try to win, and to just GET THROUGH COLLEGE.
We trained every single day. We noticed when someone wasn’t there- physically or even emotionally. We made sure to bring them back whatever that meant for them. We made sure we were all passing because we couldn’t even play if we weren’t! That was my team for four years and I remember those days as some of the best of my entire life.
We naturally took care of each other, the way some people longed for after leaving home. We became a family, a chosen and very special kind of family. We came together in rugby and that bond remained for life.
Moving on past college, I knew I needed to remain in the rugby community. I literally didn’t know how to live without it. My life had always been divided into seasons. How do other people chunk their calendars? If you aren’t playing rugby, who cares that it’s fall?
I longed for the sport, the movement, and even more I longed for my team.
Thank the universe that I then found the Albany Knickerbockers, and was adopted into my forever home. I struggled to adjust to adult rugby, at first, struggled to fit in and make new friends. Just like rugby, older girls pushed me to stay. They pushed me to grow and continue to try to work for play time. They pushed me to try and understand the group, to make friends.
They worked out with me, took me in, and made me a better player AND BETTER PERSON. Eventually this became my forever home and felt just as special, and just as much like a family as my college team.
When you play a sport that relies so heavily on your teammates, you begin to have a trust that other people can’t understand. Rugby is a dangerous sport, I won’t lie. If you don’t play safe, you could definitely get hurt. That’s the thing, you play your heart out in rugby to protect yourself, protect your body– and ALSO to protect your fellow player and even opponent.
In every game, you grow. You grow as a player and you grow as a teammate.
As for me, rugby has always felt like growth.
On the best days, rugby has made me feel like a “BOSS ASS BITCH!” On the best days, I felt like I could run for days, could tackle on repeat. I felt like a superhero. I felt like THE STRONGEST WOMAN ALIVE!!!! I felt friendships grow out of insane stories of triumph. I laughed. Scoring felt like all the good things in the world had found their way into my hands. The ball felt like my puppy that I was trying to protect. (Ha Lori) On the best days, I got called a psycho because of my love of the cold and my ease of playing in the snow!
On the best days, I ended with my teammates. We were in it together.
On the worst days, I cried. I crutched. On the worst days, I got a yellow card when my team needed me on the field. I got my hair pulled. I got called a bitch and punched for what I call ‘no reason.’ I screamed out in pain, in agony. I was more sore than I could handle without a bucket of ibuprofen. On the worst days, I made up for it at the social, laughing with opponents and teammates about all the shit we did wrong. The worst days never felt so bad with teammates.
On the worst days, I ended with my teammates. We were in it together.
The best days of rugby and the worst days have all made me who I am today: Michie Smash!!