At work the other day, A friend noticed I was wearing a rugby jersey. Shocked, he said “but Larry, you’re a computer, zen type guy!” True now, but I’ve bumped a few heads in the past 😉
Sports have had a tremendous impact on my life.
When I entered high school, the guidance councilor took one look at my physique and immediately signed me up for the school’s wrestling and rugby teams. But not because I was a promising athlete, in fact, I was anything but athletic. I was a pathological bookworm: a scrawny 98 pounds, pasty white, and, how shall we say, withdrawn from the real world. I had a serious jones going: I read a couple of books a day and avoided people like the plague.
What the councilor thought – and for which I thank him – was that sports would certainly get some meat on my bones, but more importantly, they would also get me interacting with people, not just books. He had flipped through my junior high gym records and saw that I had done well in the wrestling and rugby classes, and just signed me up. Rather totalitarian when you think about it, but hey, I love the results.
My initiation into sports began exactly as you’d expect when a bookworm is thrust into the land’o jocks. Culture shock on both sides! There’s this amazing picture from that era that I’d love to track down: it was in the sports display case at school for years. It showed me in probably my first rugby practice. Imagine the scrawny, long-haired bookworm sitting cross-legged as he looks intently up at the coach, in a pristine clean shirt and sneakers, surrounded by the hurly-burly young thugs of the rugby squad in muddy, torn rags and metal cleats. It was the sort of photo that gets that double-take as you walk by: the feeling that something just doesn’t fit.
Rugby is one of the greatest sports ever invented. Ever play “kill the guy with ball” when you were growing up? That’s essentially rugby. The unnecessary rules and equipment from other sports are abstracted away: our team’s bodies and skills against yours. The high school coach started me as a fullback, I think on the grounds that that position was the furthest removed from the contact. But I quickly developed into one of the best tacklers on the team, and I didn’t have enough sense to stay out of the rucks and mauls, so the coaches moved me into the pack. As the whole “meat on bones” thing was starting to work out, I ended up as wing forward: kind of a free-roaming “seek and destroy” role combined with a “get the ball at all costs” role. Wing forward rocked 😉
Some people thought I was more than a little crazy: I took a lot of chances diving into some dangerous plays. But I think my total lack of sports background helped here: I had no idea that things could be dangerous or hard to do! I had the body control to pull off sprinting to a loose ball, barrel-rolling to scoop it up and continue sprinting, and the lack of common sense to do so in traffic 😉 My teammates rewrote my player tourbook description to include “Larry is a ball-hawking maniac who has the distinction of once injuring three teammates in one unopposed practice”, which is at least partly untrue.
I played rugby for over ten years, mostly for the Calgary Saracens. We toured Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand, but mostly played in Canada and the USA. I took several ‘top player’ game awards and played for the Calgary Selects, but my one big sports regret is that I did not pursue rugby further. I turned down invites to the Alberta Selects camp, and I had an offer to play for a New Zealand team. My reasoning seemed valid at the time, but opportunities like that don’t come along that often, and only when you’re young.
My most vivid rugby memories include, ironically enough, waking up from my first concussion. A better one is a practice session where we running a touch-only scrimmage. I laid out and just barely tagged a guy with both hands. He was pissed and started ranting something along the lines of I had missed entirely, and even if I hadn’t missed, wimpy little slap tags shouldn’t count. So next kick off, I muttered to the kicker “hang a high one over Viking boy” and I sprinted in for the kill. He caught the ball just as I launched myself into a flat out dive at his rib cage. At the last possible second, I turned myself sideways and grazed by his side, loudly slapping both of his hips as I went by, shouting “TAG!” and scaring the absolute shit out of him. A good example of unconscious thinking; I had no actual plan, just a notion of pointing out tag is not so bad, and that he shouldn’t call me a liar. As I ran towards him, the world faded to black and the next thing I know, I’m about to crush his ribs and had to adjust, literally, on the fly 😉
Wrestling was equally as interesting as rugby, and is a similarly abstracted form of combat: you, against me. Enough rules to minimize damage, then skill, strength, stamina and body control decide the match. Check out the bloody nose story for some wrestling fun!
Pongo the dorm guy is one wrestling story I’ll add later.