Why I Love Rugby

by Chanel Shum

Clumps of grass fly everywhere. The ball spirals as it’s passed from one set of hands to the next — backwards, of course, because that’s how you do it in rugby. Nothing is straight or expected. I look constantly; everywhere people are moving. Bodies are torquing midair and colliding and rising up again as we call plays and attempt to break through the line of the opposing team. It’s like football without padding, or so I was told when I first signed up. And amidst the grit, the black eyes, the bloody noses, and the concussions, somehow there’s beauty in all of it: the relentless struggle to push forward regardless of the circumstances, leaving nothing but the wake of dust and the buzzer behind you as you make it to the “try line” and score.

I started rugby as a sophomore when I had numerous shoulder and arm injuries and wasn’t allowed to play tennis for a year. Rugby wasn’t exactly my physical therapist’s idea of “some light exercise,” but she eventually caved. In all honesty, I chose rugby because it was the only sport with no tryouts — there are more casualties than people looking to join. The girls were elated to have a new recruit, but that quickly faded the second they saw me. As a 5-foot-1 Asian, whose only prior athletic experience was playing the preppiest non-contact sport there is, I couldn’t have been further from what they were looking for. Despite their initial hesitancy and a few ripostes about my bright white tennis shoes, our camaraderie was nearly instantaneous. I was mesmerized by these light-hearted girls, who were simultaneously capable of tackles and rucks that brought even the heaviest of girls down. They were of a different world, one in which Ace bandages, turf burns, and scars were badges of bravery, simple, pure evidence that you had given your all.

Because rugby doesn’t coddle you. It doesn’t let you be hesitant, or meek, or docile. You have to walk onto the field knowing what you want and pursue it until your body has trouble breathing. It’s a sport that doesn’t accept apologies or excuses, or half-hearted regrets, especially during “sevens,” in which each team only has seven girls and each half lasts only seven minutes. To win, you must take charge before time is up. There are no second chances. It’s not always about the faster, stronger team. It’s about the team with better instincts and stronger resolve.

Since freshman year I’ve become a lot more forthright and much less naive. I’m no pushover. Rugby helped me defy the preconceived notions people had of me and showed me how much of reality was what you put into it. Some people swear by building houses in foreign countries, but for me, rugby was the crash course on stepping up to take care of myself and others; on seizing opportunities rather than sitting idly while they passed me by. I used to give up on difficult things quickly, sticking with what was safe and what I was good at. I had an ego that definitely needed to be taken down a notch, coupled with a shyness that kept me in my comfort zone, safe, but limited in my ability to grow.

Rugby gave me the chance to be a part of a more team-oriented sport, one that forced me to learn, adapt, and constantly push myself, surrounded by a group of girls who have become my closest friends. It has taught me not to fear failure or embarrassment, to take joy in the little things, to chase after the misshapen ball, to break free from the scrum.

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