“Hey, you look athletic! You should try out for rugby!” Just this simple invitation to eager freshman Brigette opened my eyes and jump-started a new life and identity for myself that I did not seriously consider before. I was wandering through ASU’s Fall Welcome Week Tiki Luau on the SDFC field when I was approached by Kara, one of the seniors and leaders on the team. I didn’t know then, but this was a pivotal moment in my collegiate career. I knew a minimal amount about rugby before because one of my older brothers played at ASU his freshman year first semester. So, after out-of-state tennis scholarships were off the table since I stayed in-state to save money on my undergraduate education, I decided to try something new. My parents were not very happy about this decision, and I remember kind of “rebelling” in a sense. In the past, for the most part, I had gone along with my parents’ wishes, but I decided to do something for me for once, and embarked on this journey. That is probably one of my biggest pieces of advice for incoming freshmen: don’t be scared to try something new!
It was a very different sport as I had never played soccer before when I was younger, but I quickly learned the rules and always gave my all. Because rugby literally has a position for every size and athletic ability, when we separated one of the first practices I thought I would be a “back,” or one of the smaller, faster players that predominantly runs. However, after being disappointed for a split-second, I was placed with the “forwards,” and originally given the position of a flanker and jumper. My coach said I was like a hybrid, or the best-of-both-worlds, since I was pretty strong and aggressive, but fairly quick as well. Since then, I have played essentially every position as a forward and experimented some as a back this summer. I had such great coaches as well, and can’t stress enough how much they have impacted me, and I really going to miss those that are retiring this year. After playing a variety of sports, been on many teams, and had countless coaches, never have I had coaches like these. I loved the structure of practices, how you felt after a hard practice, and how they created and utilized drills based on what we needed to improve upon.
I also loved the aggression and the sport itself, and quickly earned my nickname “Bruce.” Apparently, at our first tournament in San Diego, called Scrum by the Sea, the fall of my freshman year, I “punched” someone in a game. I remember trying to punch the ball out of an opponent’s tightly gripped hands, but from my coach’s angle, it looked like I punched the player. I’m not going to lie since then, I do play pretty scrappy, as someone who’s smaller for a forward, I have to make it clear that I won’t be pushed around. Sometimes, though, I kind of “see red” if you will and get really aggressive on the field. One of my teammates also described it as when “most people play they control their limbs going into a ruck, etc., but Brigette doesn’t,” and hence, my arms flail and I accidentally hit people sometimes. Despite the point, the nickname “Hulk” didn’t stick, but “Bruce,” after Bruce Banner, did and I have been reacting to that ever since.
Not only has rugby been a good outlet and an opportunity to have a great workout, but it has been one of the best decisions of my collegiate career. It has been so fun to travel with a team again, and countless memories have been formed with this particular team. My first year on the ASU Women’s Rugby team, we were ranked 14th in the nation and went on to playoffs, but were sadly crushed by UC Davis after an extremely long bus ride over. It was comforting, though, that they took it all and won the national championships that year. This year, my team performed even better, were ranked 13th in the nation, and not only went on to playoffs, but nationals as well. For our west coast division, nationals were held at UC Davis, and it was such a great experience being able to afford to fly out there and stay in hotels with my team this time. Although we lost in the first round of nationals, it created unforgettable memories, as we did still compete in nationals after all!
Aside from our winning seasons, rugby also created a new identity for myself. I now had a fun fact and interesting conversation starter. Future employers would always ask about my rugby involvement in interviews and friends would introduce me as, “This is my friend, Brigette,- she punches people.” It made me diverse because who else do you know is on a nationally ranked travelling Division I sports team and actively holding leadership positions in a Catholic sorority? It was definitely fun to wear a dress or sorority letters during the day to classes, and then change to workout clothes and snapbacks for practices at night. This new sport became a part of my life, a part of me.
So, after being pressured by one of my teammates to check out a D.C. team while I was here, and avoiding the spreadsheets of workouts assigned for this summer by my coaches, I decided to email a local club team in the D.C. area, called the D.C. Furies. I remember metroing out quite the distance the first day and feeling a little out-of-place; however, I ran into a girl on the team walking to the field and have felt welcomed ever since. From the first day, players reached out to me as I was obviously new and noticed as one of the college girls playing with them for the summer. In rugby, club teams tend to be a little more advanced than collegiate teams as they mostly consist of women who had already graduated and continued playing post college. It can be a springboard into a more professional rugby career for some. Also, I felt a bit out of my comfort zone as I had always been used to playing aggressively in 15’s style of play versus this 7’s style. Now, as summer is usually set up for 7’s rugby, only seven players are on the field and it’s a lot shorter time than traditional 15’s. It usually has a lot more sprinting and less attacking and tackling. As an aggressive forward, I am having to change my mentality, focus on passing more, and work on plays. I have to adjust from charging forward to holding back some and passing the ball out fast. I really bonded with some of the players at our away tournaments on Saturday’s that I have been playing in. For 15’s, one typically plays just one other team in a day, as it is set up longer with two 40 minute halves and no time-outs. However, because 7’s is mostly sprinting and two 7 minute halves, there are tournaments set up lasting entire days. Despite the differences, I am learning a lot and the speed and mental contrasts are assisting me to stay in shape for when I return in the fall for 15’s, and are ultimately making me a more well-rounded rugby player.
Rugby has taught me countless lessons, such as the basic teamwork values, responsibility, and to have a strong work ethic to represent yourself, your teammates, your coaches, and your school well. It has also taught me time management with a Division I travelling team, because as my coaches always pointed out, we are all still students and have exams and homework to do, but it was essential to schedule out the time to put in the hard work to improve. It has also opened my eyes to an environment that I had never experienced before. Rugby culture is so accepting, and I found it interesting how typically one team would host the away team to stay in their houses and apartments to save money, but then the following day, they would be competitors. Usually, we would leave it all on the field and afterwards, we would set aside your differences for some classic pizza and refreshments and to have a good time together. Lastly, it had taught me to work with different kinds of people and personalities. It enlightened me to not prejudge others, as I had never really been exposed to the LGBTQ environment before, but now my teammates are some of my close friends. I believe this is almost one of the most important things that I have been exposed to playing on rugby teams: that we are all people, and have more in common than we think.
This leads me to what I have learned this week as I have discovered that it’s not just about networking, but maintaining authentic relationships and friendships with your network. Last Tuesday, a former Hill staffer and high-position-holder from the Heritage Foundation gave us advice during my internship’s weekly “Careers and Callings.” I particularly noted him discussing the significance of balancing work and family life. The following evening I went to an Arizona conservative networking event with my roommate, Aundrea, and met graduates from both ASU and U of A who are successful now in D.C., as well as fellow interns out here this summer like myself. It was great to make these connections as well, and was especially uplifting to know that they came from our great state as well. Friday, since my work was finished, my boss let me go with other girls from the office to NeW, the National Conference for the Network of enlightened Women. He actually highly suggested it and commented on how I should take advantage of networking events like these especially since I’m coming from across the country with Arizona. There, I had the opportunity to hear the Counselor to the President and first woman to successfully pull off being campaign manager for a Presidential election, Kellyanne Conway, speak, as well as the entertaining Honorable Rebecca Kleefisch, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, speak. During this conference, I also, made a connection and good friends with Cassidy, a girl who previously worked at FRC, where I’m currently interning, and now interns with the Heritage Foundation, which I have connections to work at in the future. To continue the bonding flow of the week, I had a fun time with my Capital Scholars roommates Friday night at the Kennedy Center watching a free DJ performance on one of the side stages and then walking through Georgetown and the waterfront and splurging on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. We visited the Kennedy Center yet again Sunday night to see very cool circus performers. Saturday, I competed in an all-day rugby tournament again, and everyone was nice and I had a great time playing in a higher bracket. After finishing up alright but feeling exhausted from a long day in the sun, I tagged along with Aundrea that night to a nearby outing where I met more interns and full-time employees in D.C. The following morning I had yet ANOTHER opportunity to network after going to mass with Aundrea and her friend, Ashley, in the first church built in D.C. (I believe it was built in 1792). We went to coffee with her friend, who had worked at the Heritage Foundation as well and now is the scheduler for Congresswoman McSally. She is a great connection to add to my list as well and was super nice to talk to. Then, on Monday, through Monica’s internship at the White House Historical Association, she was able to get some of us Capital Scholars lunch and an opportunity to talk with former speech writer during the Bush administrations (8 years), John McConnell. He was very interesting as I am somewhat interested in speech writing. We ended that night with going out to dinner with Aundrea’s friends and most of the Capital Scholars at a Thai food restaurant for Aundrea’s 21st birthday and had her favorite cake and ice cream back in our apartment. This was fun bonding experience with her friends and the Capital Scholars and a great way to end the day. All in all, despite where people come from, I have been pleasantly surprised at how genuinely nice and welcoming everyone has been to me here. Unlike what I had imagined, most everyone is eager to tell their “life story” and offer tidbits of advice to eager, fresh-faced interns. I’ve also come to realize the real importance of not just networking, but creating authentic relationships as well.
Thanks for reading and signing off until next week,