My weekend, to say the least, was packed with rugby. Between rugby dinners and holiday parties, I’m sure I only got a few hours of sleep. The weekend was topped off by a very successful So Cal Girls Rugby Camp. The camp, which has been going on for several years, hosts girls from all over Southern California. This year’s guest coach was Billy Nicholas, head coach of Lindenwood University. I was so excited to be a part of the coaching staff and work alongside Billy, who is also involved with the ARPTC, Atlantis 7’s, and is a USA Rugby Pathway Scout. It was a great reminder that even as a coach I have so much to learn. It’s always a blessing working with mentors, and just as my career in education has shown me, nothing beats hands-on experience. The day began with several 7’s-oriented drills, and culminated with a 12-aside scrimmage. Not only was it wonderful to see the talent, but also the potential so many new girls possess. (And did I mention the weather topped out at about 65 degrees? Definitely not complaining!) I’m excited for season to start and to put our new skills into play! Here’s to many more weekends filled to the brim with rugby! Wouldn’t have it any other way.
I was seven or eight years old when I first started playing rugby. I spent years playing basketball, swimming, and doing gymnastics. But once rugby came into my life, everything else went out the window. No sport would ever come close enough to matching the love, passion, and happiness I felt when on the field.
Rugby stars were active and well-known in nations like England, Australia, and Ireland, where rugby was heaps more developed. But not so much here in the states. I was an oddity: a young, American girl with a huge passion for a sport no one knew about or could even watch on television. I didn’t have a real star to look up to,and didn’t have many conduits to hear about them anyways. Then I saw Jonah Lomu play rugby for the first time. Everything changed.
He was fast. He was speedy. He was intelligent.
Watching Jonah move on the field was like watching a stunt driver perfectly execute moves in an action movie. Only very skilled people could pull it off. If anyone else tried to, havoc would occur. Everything fit in the way it was supposed to when Jonah played. He instantly became a family favorite.
My brother, D, was an open side wing. He had the speed and the quick feet of the family, and was inspired by Jonah’s play and work ethic. While an openside wing is normally #14, D specifically asked to be #11 in honor of his beloved rugby star.
When my dad, D, and I used to play the Rugby World Cup video game, I would be England (have I mentioned my embarrassingly huge crush on Jonny? I’ll save that for another post…), my dad was Australia, and my brother was New Zealand. D wanted nothing more than to play as Jonah, both in the video game, and real life. It was like Jonah’s passion
I never heard a single bad word spoken about Jonah. In many sports today, stars are put under a microscope and often tend to make poor choices. But not Jonah. I heard he was kind, loving, and had incredible work ethic. I wanted to be just like him. I had someone to look up to, someone to encourage me to train harder, and someone who allowed my love of rugby to multiply.
Jonah was important to me, and my family, because he showed the potential rugby players could have. Rugby hadn’t (and still hasn’t) hit it huge in the states, and Jonah’s level of play was incredible. Although we now have some American stars like Todd and Zack, we didn’t have them when I was growing up. Stars like Jonah showed me the beauty of rugby, because, quite frankly he played it so eloquently and effortlessly. Those jukes, those stiff arms, those off loads. My, oh my, he was a force to be reckoned with.
However, the most important thing that Jonah taught me was that rugby was fun. The totally “out of this world” sport that I began to fell in love with was so fun to watch and play. Like, really really fun.
We truly were on a first name basis with Jonah at our house. Jonah this, Jonah that. He was everything I wanted to be as a rugby player. He was quick. He was brilliant. He was untouchable.
Until he got sick.
I remember when I found out years back. I was devastated. Not because I knew Jonah, or because I was his friend, but because Jonah played such a massive role in my growth as a player and as a coach.
When I heard the rumor he needed a kidney, my first thought was, “Well, between D and I, I’m sure one of us will be a match for him.” I was willing to give my kidney to a man I’d never met. I guess that’s what rugby does to you. You’re willing to give for those tied to you in the name of all things holy, a.k.a rugby. I hoped there was something I could do to “repay” the man who ignited a love of rugby within me. I hoped he’d play rugby again. I hoped he would be okay. With everything awful that’s been going on in the world, it’s important to have hope.
When I found out that Jonah passed away yesterday, my heart broke. It’s been a week of losses for me, and losing my rugby hero was a final kick in the gut. I know that Jonah was sick. But he was always invincible in my eyes. If anyone could get through it, shouldn’t it have been
one of the greatest rugby player s that ever lived? We won’t know why this happened to someone who was just 40, but I suppose it’s all part of the Plan.
My life has been positively changed by having a great rugby role model, and I am so grateful for that. I know that as years progress, more and more fantastic rugby stars will emerge in the states, and worldwide. They will continue on Jonah’s legacy as a player and ambassador for the sport I love so much.
Perhaps it may seem silly for people to be impacted by the death of someone I never even met. But to ruggers everywhere, it’s not. We lost our hero, our fellow player, our “blood brother”. The collective heart of the entire rugby community is aching. We not only lost an incredible player, but an incredible human being as well.
To Jonah’s family, loved ones, and teammates: I am truly sorry for your loss.
And to Jonah, I may have never had the pleasure of being in your company, but you have changed my career, and life, forever. One day, I’ll join you for a game of touch up there! Just go easy on me, okay?
Thank you for showing me how to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
Thank you for teaching me the importance of taking care of my body, mind, and soul.
Thank you for having the same rules for men and women, unlike other sports.
Thank you or letting me travel the nation and the world in your name.
Thank you for giving dedicated, hardworking players of all shapes and sizes the chance to participate. From props to wings, there’s a place for you.
Thank you for the bumps, bruises, scars, and all the stories that come with them.
Thank you for the most inclusive culture I’ve ever seen among the many sports I’ve played.
Thank you for teaching me the value of sportsmanship.
Thank you for giving me the chance to coach with my dad. Who else gets to do that?!
Thank you for providing children with positive role models.
Thank you for being a powerful force in equality in sports for all, regardless of age, gender, or country of origin.
Thank you for teaching me the importance of a post-game cheer and tunnel.
Thank you for promoting brain health and the importance of concussion recognition/treatment from youth to adults. Too many sports avoid the topic, and our heads matter!
Thank you for working hard to level the playing field for females.
Thank you for being the perfect mix of speed, strength, and smarts.
Thank you for (hopefully) leaving the scrum cadence without anymore changes. RIP “Crouch, Pause, Engage”…
Thank you for giving children the joy of running down the field with a ball in hand. Nothing will ever beat the smile of a child who just found rugby.
Thank you for introducing me to some of my favorite people.
Thank you for hosting the biggest, most exciting party ever, aka the iRB 7’s, for months straight.
Thank you for giving me the world’s best “natural high”: an eight man pick off the side of a scrum.
Thank you for showing me that I will have a rugby family no matter where I go.
Thank you for proving that girls can be bad asses, just like boys.
Thank you for finding your way back into the Olympics.
Thank you for making me understand that my “peak” is always around the corner. Keep pushing. Keep trying. Keep working.
Thank you for teaching me discipline.
Thank you for challenging me mentally and physically, like nothing ever has before.
Thank you for leading me in the direction of gel manicures. After all, how long does normal nail polish really last in a game?
Thank you for giving me the chance to coach the most wonderful set of girls I’ve ever met. My Lady Lions and Titans are intelligent, dedicated, devoted, and so very talented.
Thank you for being my outlet for stress. I’ve saved a lot on psychologists, I’m sure.
Thank you for teaching me songs that I will never, ever repeat in front of my parents.
Thank you for opening doors for my dream career.
Thank you for letting females break stereotypes of women athletes. It’s more about how we perform, and less about what we wear.
Thank you for offering more and more scholarships to high school students in the U.S.
Thank you for teaching me the how to be a leader, a follower, and when to be each.
Thank you for scrum caps. Ears are quite precious to my poor, poor locks.
Thank you for all the opportunities I’ve had to learn from some of the greatest coaches in the nation.
Thank you for proving that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
Thank you for providing me with a safe space.
Thank you for being the fastest growing sport in the nation.
Thank you for giving me courage to speak up about equality in women’s sports.
Thank you for implementing rules and regulations that keep players safe on the field.
P.S. Thanks William Webb Ellis for being a rebel. I am so grateful.
1.Atavus Grey & Green Hoodie ($54.99): Perfect for conquering post-workout chills, this hoodie is both durable and stylish.
2. Owl Be Sweatin’ “Do me a Solid” Headband ($14; use discount code “underthesticks15” for 15% off): These non-slip, adjustable headbands are guaranteed to stay on for rugby games without causing headaches. Plus, the reflective green will keep you safe on night time runs.
3. Adidas Predator Incurza SG cleats ($189.99): Nothing says slippery and sleek quite like completely black rugby boots. These new-to-the-market beauties are endorsed by Dan Carter, so here’s to hoping they make you half of good as a kicker as he is.
4. BLK Tek V Rugby Shorts ($24.99): I’ve always been a fan of white rugby shorts, and these are no different.
5. Engraved Whistle ($35): If there’s one thing that would wrap up my coaching outfit, it’d be whistle with my name engraved in it.