After four years, hundreds of minutes played, a plethora of injuries and too many tackles to count, my collegiate rugby career has officially come to an end.
You’d think this would be a little bit of a relief, as my body has taken a toll, but it’s not. Every time I think about the fact that rugby as I know it has ended, it stings all over again. If you’re not a rugger, you don’t understand the connection to the game, to the action, even to the pain. It’s inexplicable.
Four years ago, I thought I was signing up for a sport that may or may not matter to me in the long run. It was something to do, a way to meet people. Four years later, and I’ve realized I signed up for so much more than just a sport. Being a rugger has taught me about life in an nontraditional way:
1. Pain is temporary. I’m talking physical pain, but this also goes for emotional pain. There have been moments on the pitch when I didn’t think I could keep playing, but I learned that I had to. In rugby, if you sub out for an injury, you’re out for the game. You don’t get a second chance. That being said, you learn to push through the pain and ride it out. As with most things in life, it passes with time.
2. Your teammates are “with you” – on and off the pitch. If you’ve ever been a spectator at a rugby match, you’ve likely heard the phrase “I’m with you.” Players say this as a way of letting their teammate know that they can go down in a tackle, that the support is there. While this isn’t verbalized in so many words off the pitch, it’s still true. You can fall down, and your teammates will be there as support. Every time.
3. Breakaways happen in real life, too. Sometimes in a game, the other team has an incredibly fast player who manages to break through a hole in your team’s defense, and is gone on a breakaway. Sometimes the fullback can break the necessary tackle, and sometimes they can’t do it on their own. This happens in life as well. Sometimes certain events are out of your control, and as the fullback, you may be able to do something about it and you may not. Regardless of the outcome, you stand up and face the possibility of it happening again, having learned from the last time.
4. With enough time and patience, anything can be learned (or taught). When I first began playing, I had never even laid eyes on a rugby ball before. The concept of the entire game was foreign and I had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes I still don’t. During my first year, practice occasionally made my cry because I was so confused and overwhelmed. But the amount of knowledge I’ve gained in the past four years has been surprising and definitely worth the initial frustration.
5. Change, while scary, can be good. For my first two years as a rugger, I played in the back line – typically where the smaller, faster players are. I’m neither small nor fast, so this probably wasn’t the best fit. After studying abroad first semester of junior year, I learned my coach wanted to move me to flanker, a position in the “pack,” where the bigger players reside. I was devastated and terrified. But the coach knew what she was doing. Flanker was a much better fit for my speed (or lack thereof) and abilities, and when I began playing that position is when I really fell in love with the game. The point is that change is scary, but it’s also often a blessing in disguise.