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Rugby is a tough sport, no doubt about it, leaving little room for wimps like me. Joining the Washington Renegades Rugby Football Club at Stead Park for one of the team’s first practice sessions of the fall season, the only bit of good luck was that this was a touch rugby practice — no tackling. But it was still scary. “Do you have your mouth guard?” the coach asked. “You’re going to need one to prevent a concussion,” he said as he demonstrated how a blow to the jaw could cause a serious head injury.
I didn’t have a mouth guard. And as the smallest player of the 30 or so men there, I stewed in my fear. Once other players arrived, I started to feel a little better — particularly when the manly men sharing my bench in the dugout started stripping, changing from their everyday clothes to gym shorts and rugby gear. That was brief relief, though. In a matter of seconds I was back at square one, unable to shake the fear that I would soon suffer a paralyzing injury.
Adding to my anxiety, I couldn’t figure out who was gay, who was straight, and who (I assumed) would be more sympathetic to my lack of skill. That’s when I realized I was thinking too much. These men weren’t brought together by their orientation. They don’t care who’s gay or straight. They were united for one reason only: rugby. With that in mind, I forced myself to focus on the game and not the people there. It’s sort of like American football, with some tweaks. For example, you can throw the ball only to teammates behind you, never forward.
My moment of pseudo glory came as I made my attempt to “touch tackle” a player running for the goal by touching the sides of both his knees. His shoulders crashed into my neck and that’s all I needed to abandon the game. I didn’t leave feeling like a quitter because in the big game of me versus my rugby fears, I stood victorious. I came. I tried. I fled. The Renegades Rugby team meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:45 p.m. at Stead Park, 17th and P Streets NW. Visit dcrugby.com.