What I Learned From Rugby

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I was never much for team sports. Volleyball, softball, basketball, and competitive swimming all courted me, and one by one they had their hearts broken. By the time I came to Thunderbird, I had long given up on the idea that I would be part of a team sport—until one day at the start of the school year when a friend of mine casually dropped the news that the women’s rugby team was being reformed. My Thunderbird spirit overcame my distaste for athletics and I resolved myself to at least attend one practice.

My semester on the rugby pitch not only renewed my enthusiasm for the benefits of physical effort, but also taught me many lessons that can be applied in all aspects of life. The lessons began with that first practice. Allow me to impart with you what I know…

You Will Come in Last Place Sometimes—And That’s Okay!

Panting furiously for each precious shallow breath, my lower back apparently attempting to secede from my body, I focused on the rhythmic thump-thump-thump of my feet against the tarmac as I approached the pack. I felt my face flush red with—exertion, yes, but mostly embarrassment. One of the gentlemen more used to this level of activity crowed something across the final stretch at me and I considered responding with an unsavory gesture if only I could break an arm free from the trance-like robotic pattern my entire body had fallen into for the sake of survival. As I stumbled painstakingly past the finish line and doubled over to remember how to breathe, the thumping continued inside my head and one thought rang through my mind: “What have I gotten myself into?”

Courtesy of The Mama Birds

I had misgauged the time of that first practice and arrived at the very end, just in time for the “cool-down” lap around the campus. The group had broken into three sections, ranked by self-diagnosed speed. As a member of the Slow group, I was allowed a head start. Someone advised this cluster of rugby hopefuls that a shortcut lay near the entrance to the Executive Inn for those who felt they couldn’t make the full lap. I had ambitiously ignored this shortcut, and I stubbornly continued to ignore things for the rest of the run, such as my immediate drop to the back of the pack. I am not fast.

But that run, as irked as it left me initially, gave me a strong understanding of my baseline, as well as the reassurance that I could complete such a task—even if it took me longer than I would have liked. The important thing was that I hadn’t given up. I recognized that in every race, someone must come last. It’s not a mark of shame—it’s a starting point.

The Anticipation is the Worst Part

Courtesy of The Quotes

For the next few weeks, every Monday and Wednesday I cursed the sun as it began to sink toward the horizon. The prospect of warm-ups and running gave me something akin to stage fright, complete with trembling legs and hyperactive butterflies taking up residence somewhere in my digestive tract. Preparing for each practice was an internal struggle—I had to re-convince myself with every step I took. I would recall the deathly exhaustion of that first run and an electric chill of dread would overtake me.

However, despite all of my worries, my fear would quickly dissipate each time I stepped onto the rugby pitch. During the warm-ups I never had the time or mental resources for nerves—and during the main practice, the overarching feeling was one of accomplishment and joy. Eventually I no longer dreaded practice, as I simply wanted to get out there and make more progress. In life, the worst past of facing a challenge is how scary we can make it seem by putting it off and ruminating on it. Once you’re out there, you have the chance to see what you’re really capable of!

There’s a Place for Everybody (and Every Body)

The Harvard Women’s Rugby team taking pride in their diversity and strength. Courtesy of Daily Mail

One of the greatest parts of rugby is the freedom and acceptance which is missing from so many other team sports. Big or small, short or tall, anyone with the determination to keep trying and keep moving forward has a place on the team. There’s no sense of “not fitting in” for being different from your fellow players—just like a good team environment in a professional setting should be, where every skill set is valued and has a place!

There’s no pressure to fall into some archetype, be it physical or otherwise. In particular, I found that ridiculous gender roles are ripped to shreds and ground with gusto into the cleat-pocked grass of the pitch.

Courtesy of Irish Rugby

It was through rugby that I came to love my physical strength—something that mainstream social norms tend to herd women away from. Rather than feigning helplessness or lamenting my lack of agility I reveled in plowing through my teammates as we learned our tackles, hooting with laughter as each collision brought us to the ground. For a couple of weeks I flaunted a massive and extremely unladylike bruise on my leg from landing on the business end of a cleat, and proudly basked in the shocked reactions it brought me. It’s okay to be swift and nimble, it’s okay to be mighty, it’s okay to fall down and get hurt and laugh and wear your scars as a badge of honor. Just like at Thunderbird, on the rugby pitch “you are welcome here.”

Article written by Thunderbird student Daisy Jasmine. Originally published in Das Tor, Thunderbird's student newspaper.