Thursday, July 07, 2005

So, the original title was, "Boshbags, Bl*wj*bs and Bald Women"...

~ My Life as a Boshbag ~

Okay. First thing first. I do not know why I play the game of rugby. It is stupid, I know. There is something seriously wrong with any individual who wants to play a game where physical abuse is a prerequisite. The entire sport is centered around bruises, broken bones, internal injuries, beer and songs about masturbation and the sexual assault of small, cute animals. Everything about rugby is just wrong. So, why do I subject myself to it? Again, I just do not know. Maybe I just do not like being told that I should not do something--for me that is an open invitation to do it anyway. I am such a rebel!

So, actually there is nothing remotely rebellious about me. I have never smoked a cigarette, rarely, if ever, drink and can proudly say that I have never gotten a detention or had to stay after school for any reason. Seriously. I am every parent's dream. Well, at least I was. That was before I decided not to play division one field hockey, picked up club rugby and, as a result, ended up in the emergency room (not once, but twice) due to serious internal injuries in a single season. Yeah, so you can imagine my parents' reaction to the news that I wanted to play the damned sport in London. Let's just say it was a heated discussion that ended with them removing me from their insurance policy and informing me that they were no longer financially responsible for my medical bills. Gotta love their amazing support, huh?!

I do not know. Maybe they are right, but I am not going to admit it. Instead, I keep telling myself that if I play abroad then maybe I can learn how to play hard and not need a stretcher to get me off the field once that final whistle blows. One of my friends and fellow rugby teammates, Hannah, also wanted to play while we were abroad, so we worked together to find a team. I think that we were both secretly hoping not to find one, but neither one of us ever said so. As if fate was mocking us, we found a team in under a week of being here. Oh and it just was not any old rugby team. No, no. It was the Richmond's women's team. Yeah. They were number two in the country last year. They have women who used to play professional rugby! Seriously, these women are intense. Take Helen, for example. She used to play for the Irish National Team, and has the most muscularly chiseled body ever. You would not believe this woman's quads. They are comparable to the legs of a racehorse in peak condition. When you see something like the girth of Helen's thighs, it is hard not to think about how they will be the source of the power that is going to run you over in the next play. Needless to say, I tried to get on Helen's good side right from the start. Thank goodness we were placed on their B-side team. Now, B-side does not mean that they are any less extreme in their intensity level. It only means that they have seen the women who play on the A-side and have decided that they would like to live to see, say, tomorrow. I think Hannah and I both accepted that we were going to die anyway, B-side or not.

I wish that I could go back in time and make a better first impression, though. Hannah and I probably both looked terrified and it did not help that we were dressed ridiculously. Remember that it was January, and although London's winters cannot compare with those in Syracuse, it still was below freezing that night. Yet, there were Hannah and I dressed in shorts, tee shirts, socks and cleats. We looked absolutely dumb. See, we thought that they would have indoor practice facilities it being winter and all. Nope. Guess we forgot the motto, "Everyday is a rugby day" or "Any weather is rugby weather." Whoever came up with those sayings should be tackled by a 400-pound prop(1) when the ground is frozen. Bet they would not be so gung-ho rugby then. Anyway, Hannah and I were standing there staring at what we had gotten ourselves into and not knowing exactly what to do about it except walk up and introduce ourselves.

"What Uni are you going to?" asked one nine-foot tall girl.
"My name is Dealey," I replied.
"No, no. What Uni are you going to over here?" she inquired again.
"Dealey. My name is Dealey. It is Irish," I nervously responded again, wondering if I just was not enunciating well enough.
"Do you go to a Uni?" She was getting annoyed now. I look to Hannah for help. She leans over and whispers, "I think she wants you to tell her what school we are going to over here."

It was going to be a long night.

Of course it did not help that during the warm-up laps I decided to outrun everybody. This seriously was not to show anybody up but to A) warm my scarcely clad body up and B) avoid being trampled and/or eaten by the women I was running with. The fact that they were yelling at me to slow down only made me run faster too. Does a hunted bunny rabbit slow down to a jog just because the hungry wolf cannot catch it? Okay, so that was a bad analogy, but I felt like I was seriously running for my life. The drills were a disaster, too. It was not that I did not know how to do what they were doing, but because I did not understand what they were saying. Try taking a very out of breath English accent and throw in British rugby slang and a mouth guard and everyone, but Hannah and I, suddenly sounded as if they have reverted back to baby garble. I went for over an hour without understanding a single word, and when I finally did it was a Canadian member of the team, Erica, asking if I really had played rugby before. Yeah, so does anyone want to guess how dumb I felt? Let's just say I became the night's permanent bosh bag girl. The bosh bag is really not anything dirty. It just means that I got to be dummy defense and let women the size of trains run at full speed at me holding nothing more then a glorified couch cushion.

The second practice was not any better, either. Due to stupid pride, I insisted on wearing even fewer articles of clothing than I had to the previous practice. Dumb, I know, but the last thing that I wanted anyone to think was that I had shown up to the first practice unprepared. By not bundling up the second time (in a perfect world) everyone would think that I was a tough player who could brave the subzero temperatures without a whimper. Of course, in reality no one noticed at all. Well, that is except the Canadian, Erica, who promptly asked Helen, "Do you have any old shirts that you don't wear anymore? Our American friends could use some equipment." I began to wonder if I had a chance of actually leaving a practice without feeling like the team idiot.

That question, though, was soon answered by the start of lineout(2) training. Now, back at Syracuse, I am one of the two lifters in a lineout. My coach has always wanted me to be the jumper, but I am incapable of jumping more than two inches off the ground--even with a running start. It is pathetic, I know, but my body is just not genetically programmed to jump, I guess. Believe me when I tell you that I really tried to get this fact across to Steve, the Richmond B-side coach, but he just would not listen at all. So, I had to show him. I got into position and the back lifter, as she grabbed my shorts, spandex and pulled my $14 Victoria Secret underwear up my - well, let us just say that she gave me a wedgie - turned to me and inquired, "So how do you jump?" I, not wanting to lead her on in any way, responded truthfully, "Badly." And I did, too. I jumped so horribly, in fact, that I was again demoted to the ranks of the bosh bag girl. Oh, and once I got into the locker room afterwards, Erica the Canadian turned to me and asked if I had ever been in a lineout before. Yep, so I guess that team idiot thing is a bit more permanent then I hoped for, but, then again, so was that wedgie that I acquired when I was lifted.

Speaking of the locker room, no one seems to have a problem with walking around buck-ass naked all of the time. You are crammed into this tiny changing room with ten other women, and one minute you are taking off your cleats and the next everyone around you is as exposed as they were the day that they were born. Boobs are flying, butts are everywhere, and no one seems to notice. Everyone just cruises down to the open shower room chatting away like they have clothes on or something. Now do not get me wrong here. I have no problem with naked women. I just, personally, do not want to have to see naked women. There are some cute guys on the men's team that I would not mind seeing in the buff, but I seriously just want to run out and buy towels for all my teammates. They shower this way too. There is just one big room with a bunch of showerheads sticking out of the walls. That means that you have to, not only be naked, but shower naked in front of everyone, too--no curtains or anything. But what I really do not understand is why this whole communal shower thing also has to occur with the other team after a game. Back in Syracuse, everyone goes to the drink-up covered in dirt and sweat and still wearing what they wore in the game. This is mainly because attending a drink-up means that you are going to leave covered in beer, spit and, quite possibly, bodily excretions. So, why shower? And furthermore, why shower with the other team that, less than ten minutes before, you were engaged in trying to murder? Personally, I do not really want to see the girl who almost killed me on the field ever again--much less naked and standing next to me shampooing her shaved(3) head.

This brings me to the typical stereotype people have of female rugby players. Apparently, if you are female and play rugby, you must be a lesbian. Not only that, but all forms of femininity are stripped from you. It is like the second you pick up a rugby ball you are drained of every last drop of estrogen, pumped full of testosterone, and acquire the need to shave your head and wear a detachable penis. I hate being typecast into any role--especially one that is so untrue of both myself and the majority of women I have played rugby with. This is not to say that there are no homosexual women that play rugby (or that there is anything wrong with any sexual identity), but that rugby is a very diverse sport with a wide range of individuals playing it. Saying that all female ruggers(4) must be gay is like stating that all professional quarterbacks must look like Troy Aikman. Personally, I have learned more accurate 'how to' information about giving effective bl*wj*bs to my boyfriend from my fellow female rugby players then from the magazine, Cosmopolitan.

Anyway, moving right along, it became very clear by the third practice that I was going to need a scrum hat(5) if I intended to keep playing. At home all the forwards tape their ears to their heads to keep them from getting ripped or chewed off during a game. Over here, though, you need them taped at practice. I found this out the hard way. I finally had been relieved of my bosh bag position and allowed to play in a version of Sevens(6) with a mixture of both the A-side and the B-side. Back in Syracuse, we generally play this game at the 'touch'(7) level. Not in Richmond, though (they do not seem to do anything 'touch'). No, no. It was full out "let's run around at full speed and beat the crap out of each other" kind of Sevens. I was terrified, but ended up doing tons better then I thought I would--I even scored a couple of trys(8)! My confidence was slowly starting to creep back; that was until my ear almost got ripped off by one of my teammates. It was not dangling on by a thread or anything, but the back of the ear bled a little bit and hurt like it might as well have been torn from my head completely. So, I decided it was finally time to purchase the scrum hat. I went in to buy one from Fliss (our captain) right after practice (a practice, might I add, that she surprised us all by actually showing up for). Now, I had my heart set on a black one, but they outlawed black because it does not show blood. So, I had to pick another color. This would not have been a problem if the colors that I had to choose from had not been hot pink, baby blue, or gold--all with the brand name, KOOGA, written in large, bold letters across the forehead. I had to get one, too, because I have a youth-sized head, and such small sizes are almost impossible to find, anywhere. So, I ended up purchasing the baby blue one. True, baby blue does not really convey the since of dread that I was hoping to instill in the eyes and minds of my opponents--and the blue silk sash definitely does not help, either--but it was the blue hat or bye-bye ears. Thank goodness that after a little mud and some rain it has turned to a much more intimidating shade of mossy turquoise.

I cannot help but think that there would be more leadership at practices if the coach and captain would come on some sort of regular schedule. The only times, though, that they seem to show up are A) if there is a game, B) if there is some event involving heavy drinking and C) if their leadership capabilities and/or abilities are in question. I cannot tell you how many times I have dragged myself all the way out to stupid Richmond in stupid zone four only to find out that stupid Fliss, the stupid captain, forgot to call and tell me that stupid practice was cancelled. It is very frustrating. And, of course, because we have no guidance from neither the coach nor the captain, the team fights and bickers constantly. Random people have tried to take charge during the drills, but that has never worked because everyone else attacks them for trying to lead when they are not anyone of remote executive importance. So, sometimes absolutely nothing is accomplished during practice except a lot of hair pulling and cat fighting. It is kind of funny to watch - that is until someone decides that in order to relieve all team tension we should play some much more violent version of full-contact rugby. This, to me, never seems like a good idea (mainly because I had to be involved), but, since I am an American, my opinion never matters much. So, I, of course, got trampled, tackled and tossed around in the mud by these women who suddenly had more testosterone flowing through them then my brother, father, and eleven Quarter horse stallions combined. I walked off the pitch(9) after practice feeling more beat up than if I would be if I simply, say, gotten mauled by a starving male lion just after being trampled by a charging elephant. Not to mention the fact that I was also covered in mud, so I had to venture into the communal showers before I was in acceptable condition to be able to ride the tube home.

I refused to parade my naked ass (or, should I say arse?) around the locker room, though. So, instead, I just went in fully clothed--boots(10) and all. The way I figured it, my clothes were just as muddy as I was, plus I was just going to shower once I got home anyway. So what if I froze to death on the train ride back to my flat in Earls Court? They got to, literally, kick my ass on the field, so why should my defeated butt endure the torture of being exposed in front of the actual ass-kickers in a shower-like situation? That would be like adding insult to injury, and, believe me I have a sensitive posterior that can only take so much. No good.

So, to quote Hannah, "Going to rugby practice is not just going to practice. It is an investment of about twenty-four hours. A half hour of adverting your eyes in the locker room, an hour of travel, one and a half hours of confusion running around clueless on the field and (at least) twenty-one hours of recovery." We came to London to better our positions on the field, and, so far, have only been successful in teaching everyone else that we cannot play rugby at all. Back at Syracuse, Hannah and I are starters, but, here, we are the team morons. Hannah thinks that it is "refreshing" to no longer know what is going on. I, on the other hand, find it to be about as stimulating as shooting-the-boot(11). We do not know if they have a team mascot, only believe their colors to be red, yellow and black, and have no idea if they consider themselves to be a club or a league. Think that is strange? How about playing on a team at least twice a week and still being unable to associate yourself with them in a sentence? It is always A) the rugby team in Richmond or B) Hannah and I, the Americans. It sounds as if we are a completely different entity than the team in Richmond, but we are just as much a part of them as the Welsh, Irish and British players that also play out at Richmond with us. Hannah and I have even been asked to go to Scotland with them on a 'Children of the Sun Tour'. We are (big surprise here) not sure what to expect--except three days of constantly playing rugby. At least, that is what Hoppe (our adorable team Hooker(12) says. Well, that was until she saw our eyes go dark with the fear and then she added that, "The tour is not just about playing. We also wander around looking for where we can get free beer." Great. As if free beer could make up for how horrible I know my body will feel after three days of pounding, rucking(13) and mauling.

Anyway, back to this 'Children of the Sun Tour' nonsense. Hannah and I have both received lists of mandatory items that we must bring with us other then our boots, shorts and socks. Oh, yes, and it includes everything from a clothespin to a feather to a water pistol. This is because we are touring as Red Indians, and are required to dress like Red Indians at all times. Because that is politically correct?! Hannah and I tried to give the team a crash course in how to be P.C., but, quite frankly, Native-Americans-with-a-blushing-complexion does not sound as intimidating as Red Indians. No matter what we are going as, though, does not change the fact that I am going to die. Practicing with these people makes you realize how really mortal you are--much less playing in a competitive situation where a team's honor is on the line. I keep thinking of this tour as a battle scene out of the movie Braveheart. There we will be--two teams standing opposite of each other. Our fearless captain (if she decides to grace us with her presence) will yell, "Freedom," and we will charge the other team--caring not if we die, but only about scoring the next try. And once it is obtained, we all will strip down to our skin and run around singing "We are the Champions" by Queen. Fade to black and cue credits. But in reality, everyone will limp off the pitch in worse condition then Arnold Schwarzenneger at the end of one of his Terminator flicks, shower together and then venture out to the bar to drink to an oblivion while singing classic songs like, The Sexual Life of a Camel, Incest is Best and Arse Holes for Sale.

So, just in case anyone was wondering, a semester of playing rugby in London (not to mention this upcoming Scottish tour thingy) has only reiterated the fact that I am stupid. Rugby is a sport that requires a high threshold of pain, tons of courage and lots of insurance. Why, then, do I insist on playing it? I wish I knew. Maybe it is the intensity. Maybe it is the danger. But it probably is the people. The women I have played rugby with have always been the quirkiest and most accepting individuals. I have never laughed so hard as I have with some of my teammates--both in London and back at home. There is something uniquely special about a group of individuals that crotch bind, strip and stick their heads up their teammates asses - and that is only ON the field. I do not know. Maybe I will figure it out one day. In the mean time, though, "Ruck to the east and ruck to the west. Richmond ruggers are the best. So, keep on rucking Richmond--ruck those blues away!"


1. Now I should take the time out to explain to my rugby-impaired reading audience what the hell a prop is. I am not going to though, because I cannot define the position without going into what a scrum is, and how a lineout functions, and, not to mention, why there is always a hooker involved. So, if you really want to know, please find me or, heaven forbid, look it up. May I suggest Alexander C. Rae's book, Bluff Your Way in Rugby. Copyright 1992 by Oval Projects.

2. Okay, a lineout is how the ball comes back into play once it has gone out of bounds. The participants are the eight forwards: seven standing one in front of the other, and the hooker throwing the ball into play. The same thing is going on with the other team, and the two lines create a tunnel into which the ball is thrown. Generally, the first person and the third person in the line lift the second player (i.e. the jumper) up by his/her shorts. The jumper from each team then fights for the ball in the air, and the winning side brings it down and gets the ball moving again. If you still do not understand what a lineout is or what function it serves please refer to the advise of the first footnote or ask me to draw you a diagram.

3. Okay. I suppose that it is wrong to stereotype female rugby players as having shaved heads. I definitely do not have one, but it just seems that everytime I get hurt in a game it is by a very masculine woman with a buzz cut.

4. A rugger is another name for a rugby player.

5. A scrum hat is a piece of equipment that some of the forwards wear on their heads in lieu of taping their ears. They keep the ears safe from injury in the scrum and during loose play.

6. Sevens is a game that emphasizes passing and thinking on one's feet. The general rules of rugby are applied (i.e. the ball is still passed backward, etc.), but physical contact is usually restricted.

7. 'Touch' is the term used for minimal physical contact.

8. A 'try' is a goal in the game of rugby. Imagine how it feels to finally score and have everyone yell at you, "Nice try!" Rather ironic, huh?!

9. A pitch is what they call a playing field over here.

10. Boots are what the English call their cleats.

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