Between November and February
I spent some of the month of November recovering from a tackle I took during the last match with Rocky Gorge on Halloween. Even now (1/19), however, I can still feel an ache in my right knee in some positions - but it's much better than it was. I couldn't even squat without pain during much of November. Geez.
I also bought myself some real rugby boots, so my soccer shoes can be worn when I mow the back yard. (I have a sloped back yard, and mowing it without cleats or studs is a challenge.) My boots are "Reebok Visigoth Highs"; as a rule rugby boots have aggressive names like this for marketing purposes. (I haven't yet come across a "Nike Philosopher," for instance.) I got them on sale from Matt Godek.
I've also been doing some running every week, in full kit on the grassy fields of South Run rec center. I don't want to repeat the fitness struggle of last August, when my ankles hurt for weeks because I was unused to running! I've also resumed weight training, but haven't gotten back to where I was before starting rugby. At the end of the season I weighed 244 - I'm now up to 250, but some of that is muscle I put back on in my chest and some in my upper legs, which I've been working out. It's an old bodybuilder's axiom that you can't lose fat without also losing some muscle, and you can't gain muscle without also gaining some fat.
Attended a WSRFC team meeting at Mama's in December, and was made one of the secretaries! This wasn't something I sought, but the prior secretary was ready to give it up and suggested my name since I put together a rugby web site of my own, the "Rugby Reader's Review." (Another activity between the seasons.) It mostly means I'm responsible for updating the WSRFC website, for which I'm a natural. I work with Vinny Panigot, who serves as the other secretary.
Of course there were a lot of great matches to watch on TV between seasons. The Wales vs. Argentina, Wales vs. South Africa and South Africa vs. England ones were especially good, and I have them on tape. (In fact I have 20+ matches on tape.)
But the definite main event of the between-seasons was the Winter Banquet, where I was given a plaque as "Most Improved." Imagine, me getting a sports award, the number two chess champ of Burbank High and an academic nerd for most of my adult life. And in rugby, at age 42, yet! On one hand, it makes sense for me to get this seeing as how I started rugby from a knowledge base of zero in August and, well, have progressed. But never in the world would I have predicted this. Life is amazing...
Oh, and I bought a '95 Pontiac to replace my battered old Beetle. The choice for vanity plates was clear: "OLDE BOY." ("Old Boy" was already taken by some other codger in the state.)
We begin Spring practice on Saturday, 6 February. Our schedule is set, and it looks to be more fun, with less at stake, than in Fall (which play determines rankings and relegations). On one hand I'm really looking forward to it; on the other, well, let's just say that I have a lazy streak in me a mile wide.
Saturday morning practice, 6 February
First session of Spring practice, and I am gladdened and sorry at the same time. Gladdened because rugby is fun and, right now, I need it. Sorry because it hurts and every practice and match involves a mental battle with the lazy coward within. It's a good thing I did some running between seasons, or I'd be even more sore than I am now. My rear end is sore, my legs are sore, my ankles are sore, my back is sore, and my head is tender from a cranial collision with Stax. Still, I feel it a blessing to be healthy enough to play. (A 19 year old friend of mine can't do it - he seems to have a heart defect of some sort that causes intense chest pains when he exerts himself.) And there is no doubt: playing out there, I feel alive; so the soreness is therefore a small price to pay.
35 degrees and rainy on the way out to the pitch, but it ended as we began. Some mud, of course. I don't know which is better, rugby when it's cold or when it's hot. I guess I'll find out as the season progresses.
We did a lot of running and I kept up. We also did various passing exercises, some rucking, the old free-the-ball-from-the player's-grasp exercise (I was lousy at this for some reason, probably tired) and some practice play at the end. Lots of new faces, and it's good to see the old ones.
Crazy Eddie concluded his morning's exertions by barfing on the pitch, with all of us cheering; then we headed over to Mama's for lunch.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 9 February
Did a lot of running and ball passing in the semi-dark (we had to set up the lights and generator). It's kind of difficult to receive a ball flying out of a blinding light, but this is merely an excuse as I don't have the world's greatest hands.
Me (250 lbs.), Eric Wheeler (210 lbs.) and Carmac Jonas (280 lbs.) did some line-out hoisting drills. The small of my back is here to tell you 280 lb. guys were never designed to be hoisted in the air and held for two counts. We also did some binding-into-a-ruck drills that just looked, well, odd. Presenting my rear end to a guy to bind to is something I'm glad my son wasn't able to see. (He thinks rugby is gay.) I was singing "the Ambiguously Gay Duo" theme song while we were doing this.
Anyway, good practice. I arrived home feeling like I had accomplished something, which is what it's all about.
Thursday Evening Practice, 11 February
We ran tonight, and did a fun little mauling exercise with a square marked by cones; it's like a tag team match between eight guys. We also did the New Zealand Cross. We ran some more, we forwards up and down the incline near some temporary buildings. Then we ran and hopped over one another. As I write this I'm tired and my muscles ache - but hey, big deal.
I grossed my wife out by telling her I can now determine which guys are around me by smell! But it's true, pack running is like that.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 16 February
My right ankle healed up enough for me to do slalom running, passing exercises and aerobic stuff. (Last week's "hurdle the dead" drill caused me some problems, so I put the inserts back into my boots.) We also did some line-out practice; last year we were told that the jumper was fair game when he got the ball, which sounded like dangerous play and caused some argument. Last night we were told he's fair game only after he's landed. Spoilsports.
We also did some opposed scrums, hooray! I linked up with Steve McNair, a fellow Old Boy and one of my favorite props, and did not move. Pushed mightily. The rest of the scrum started to come apart but he and I stayed put.
I love this stuff.
Thursday Evening Practice, 18 February
More ankle-stressing slalom running, with the field muddier than it has been (it having rained earlier in the day). We all got pretty muddy, in fact, and we're really ripping up the pitch. I'll be surprised to see grass growing! It was also cold with a breeze - I was glad to start running.
It's a good thing I have those high boots; I imagine I wouldn't be able to run if I still wore the low-cut soccer shoes I had last season. We also did more line-outs. The amount of wear and tear my shoes are getting is probably pretty high, I hope they last awhile. The forces generated by all the pushing I do in mauls entirely repositions my feet in the shoes!
Anyway, I was especially sore in the ankles, legs and knees after this evening, so I sat in a hot tub, took five ibuprofen (100 mg, a prescription dose) and got a good night's sleep. I feel fine today (Friday morning), but it has been a rough week. Rugby practice on Tuesday, helping someone move out of a townhouse on Wednesday night and practice the next night. And food distribution to the Arlington needy on Friday night, whew.
Steve McNair and I are driving up to the British Embassy in D.C. to watch the England-Scotland match (the Calcutta Cup) live at 9:30 AM! That should be really cool. We'll miss Saturday morning practice, but hey, we're Old Boys, with social responsibilities.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 23 February
Steve couldn't go to the Calcutta Cup viewing, so I went myself and had fun watching the England more or less squeak past the Scots. Good match, and being in a British pub, on British soil (which is what the embassy is) watching rugby with rooms full of Brits is authentic, and perhaps as close to actually being able to visit there as I'm ever going to get.
It was cold tonight: 24 degrees when I left home and 20 degrees when I arrived back (with flurries as we left the pitch). We did what seemed like an extended "Harpold's Fitness Salon" session after warm-up ball-passing stuff. We got new practice balls that are much easier to catch, having new nubbed surfaces instead of the worn, bologna-skinned ones we normally use. Anyway, it seemed I spent most of the practice trying to catch up with Eric Wheeler, but never being able to (that young man can run). I was wheezing and coughing when I got home, with the chills. Ugh.
But that's not bad: Tom Loesel got a black eye and Pete Parsons had to go off for stitches in his head after Saturday's practice. If we're as rough on our opponents as we are on ourselves, we ought to have a winning season.
Thursday Evening Practice, 25 February
A somewhat shorter-than-usual but wild practice. It snowed flurries, and we found ourselves doing our push-ups, etc. in mud, ice and snow. Not much of an accumulation, but enough on the ground to make things interesting. What's more, a combination of the humidity and temperature made us all smolder like half-lit Human Torches in between runs - all this lit by the generator-powered lights. Anyway, I felt real old tonight, and felt like giving up a number of times.
I didn't, however.
Saturday Morning Practice, 27 February
When we got to the pitch a bunch of junior high school lacrosse players were there, so we had to share the field.
We did various tackling, passing, rucking and mauling drills. One of them was essentially a big wrestling match within cones, and I got knocked hard on the forehead, and have a discoloration and a swelling as a reward. (This will cause some disbelieving stares at work.) Some of these guys are too free with their forearms, and ought to save that kind of thing for opposing teams. Am I complaining about aggressive play? No, I'm complaining about some people not being especially good clubmen.
Then we did a half-pitch practice game, and I took someone's studs in the mouth. The mouthguard protected my teeth, however, so all is well. I made my first try! Too bad it was only practice... I pulled the ball out of a mess nearly on the try line and flung myself forward. Still, this was a brutal practice, as far as practices go. First of all, it was long - we started at 10 and ended around 1 - and secondly, it was rather bloody. (I actually saw gobbets of blood on the pitch here and there, something we only infrequently managed in reenacting using edged weapons.) At one point I looked at my hands and saw someone's blood on them, no way of telling whose. Maybe my own. So when you read "Give Blood - Play Rugby." it's no exaggeration.
Took club pictures at the end.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 2 March
We finally renewed our acquaintance with my friend the scrum sled this evening. It was hard work for two reasons: 1) Mud. Even with studs it's hard to get traction, and 2) It was just a tight five practice. Sure, fewer guys on the sled, but fewer guys pushing, too. I guess I'm used to having the number eight help stabilize me because I was slipping all over and falling, sometimes pulling down the prop in front of me. So, when I got up a little higher to keep from falling I'd get lectured about being too high and not keeping my butt down. Sometimes you just can't win.
Anyway, now my upper legs are sore from the scrum. We really should have been doing this weeks ago, not days before a match.
Did another session of Harpold's Fitness Salon.
Thursday Evening Practice, 4 March
I was strongly disinclined to attend practice this evening, having lost several hours of sleep and feeling kind of out of it as a result, but I went anyway. Turns out we had as relaxed a session as rugby practice ever gets. Did some non-frenetic tight five scrum practice with the sled; a new fellow, Scott, had to learn how to play second row, and that sort of slowed things down a bit. Fine with me, we can always use reinforcement on the essentials.
Then we practiced some plays off of the scrums, "orange in" and "orange out." It would be nice if I could remember this stuff, and it would be even nicer if we actually used these and our line-out plays in a match! The problem with b-side play, however, is that the personnel from practice to match varies greatly (the a-siders are better about coming to practice consistently, which is partially why they're a-siders), so we usually don't have everyone on the pitch who knows the plays. Result: we stick to the basics, or play a sort of catch-as-catch-can. Bruises are gained either way.
First game of the season Saturday against Severn River. I'm as ready as I'll ever be.
B-SIDE MATCH AGAINST SEVERN RIVER, SATURDAY 6 MARCH
The a-side won their game 27-3, and we won ours 17-12, a good start to the season! At the beginning of our match Coach Lyster told us not to make the same mistakes out on the field the a-side made. Fortunately we made the same mistake of winning! The field was pretty muddy in places (it having rained that morning), and this served to make the running difficult - like someone was grabbing at the ankles. Severn River didn't show up with anything near a complete b-side, so their back line was essentially WSRFC players. We easily dominated them in the scrum when they weren't barging - the only problem we had was in not being ready and there not being a cadence to the engagements.
The referee was a South African who seemed to be equal parts ref and coach, telling people why he was penalizing them while he was doing so. I, for one, appreciated this.
Personally, I played a rather mediocre game, not really taking advantages of opportunities or playing hard. I was hit in the face and got a swollen lip at one point, but that went away quickly. But the match wasn't bad for the first season of the game, I suppose. I certainly played with more confidence than I did last season.
Great turnout by the club - nearly everyone was there. Went to the Clubhouse afterwards and had fun watching the first half of the Ireland-England Five Nations match, then went home.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 9 March
Practice was canceled due to the heaviest snow we've had in about three years (5"-6"). It wasn't so much a reluctance to do things in the cold and snow - it's a matter of getting through traffic to get to the pitch! Bummer - I really felt like exercising tonight.
Thursday Evening Practice, 11 March
Wild evening! We ran around with a couple of inches of snow on the pitch. All we could really do was run and do passing exercises, a little rucking, a little mauling. We did "the forward's dream," which is kicking the ball across the pitch and chasing after it. (I have other dreams.) Only 14 of us showed up - whackers, all - the rest of the active guys being in Savannah for a St. Pat's Day tournament. No telling what we'll have for a- and b-sides for tomorrow's match against USUHS.
The good thing about playing on snow is that it removes every trace of mud from the soles of one's boots. When I got home mine were as clean as puckering one's lips and blowing air through them, thereby causing a high-pitched tone.
B-SIDE MATCH AGAINST USUHS, SATURDAY 13 MARCH
A-side lost their match 8-14, we won ours 17-10 - but ours (my tenth match) was a short match of two twenty minute halves. At first I welcomed it, but after the match realized it wasn't nearly long enough. I like 30 minute halves, minimum. (Greater credibility, and when you're done you feel you've done something.) What a game we had! It was cold, wet and muddy - my poor wife freaked when she saw my kit - and two fights broke out. Someone said afterwards, "Now you know why they call themselves 'the Fightin' Docs!'" Sean Page was sin-binned for stamping, and the match literally ended with the ref disgustedly calling it off! (The ref was a hoot - I really liked this guy. Lots of personality; he had no fear of chiding players he claimed "...shouldn't wear a rugby jersey." ) Anyway, it was pretty down and dirty for a b-side match - their fly-half was apologizing to us afterward! - and the a-side match was about the same.
I had a good match, much better than last week, and did one tackle that kept USUHS from a try. I hauled after a guy and got him by the neck of his jersey; I don't think I ran that fast in quite some time... Lots of mauling, and our scrummaging was great; we overpowered the opposition pretty much when we wanted. I take it as a personal insult when we're pushed back in a scrum, and enjoy the kind of experience we had today.
My first try still eludes me. It'll happen some time, or it may not. At age 42 I'm not doing "hoop dreams." But I had a lot of fun today, playing in the mud. Not only does it help create great rugby photos for the web site, it's easier to fall on than some of the nasty semi-gravel pitches we played on last fall.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 16 March
Slippery scrumming with the sled. It's well-neigh impossible to 1) Stay low without slipping in the mud and pulling your prop down, too, 2) Getting traction while the numbereight is pulling up on your legs, and 3) Propelling the sled forward. Very frustrating. We also did a lot of running tonight, and that fitness thing Harpold had us doing last season: do two pushups, sprint over to him, do two pushups, spint back, do two pushups, spint over to him, etc. I'm normally not a quitter, but I was on the verge of taking an "Old Boy's Pass" last night! (But I didn't.) Whew!
Thursday Evening Practice, 18 March
An unremarkable practice, save that Ned, my loosehead prop, complained that I have a bony shoulder after a scrum. The way I see it, if a prop, with the rear-end/upper-leg padding that almost all props have, is complaining of pressure from my shoulder and upper back during a scrum, I must be doing something right. Speaking of the scrum, I have felt no back or left shoulder pain at all so far this season, and have been shoving with all my might in just about every scrum. I built up the muscles sufficiently, I guess.
It'll be interesting to see who's available for Saturday's match. A-side lock Eric Wheeler is out with a damaged shoulder/collarbone, the other a-side lock Stax is out with a broken finger...
A-SIDE AND B-SIDE MATCH AGAINST BRANDYWINE, PA, SATURDAY 20 MARCH
At the beginning of the a-side match it was apparent that "we didn't travel well," as the phrase goes, so at the half I played second row. (The coaches played in the first half, which apparently caused some comment, but not from me.) And an awful match it was! Brandywine's a-side was fast and hard, and by the time the second half came around the score was something like 35-5. I'm pretty sure we didn't play a 40 minute half after that - it was more like 25 minutes or so. The ref called an early end to the massacre. Anyway, the score was 65-5; Brandywine averaged about a point for every minute of play. So it was a pretty harsh introduction to a-side play, and I didn't play especially well, missing a tackle and getting the breath knocked out of me at one point by a WS player. (Ouch. Just as bad was a missed tackle that merely propelled the Brandywine player closer to our try line.)
More of our guys showed up later, and after all was said and done we had a complete side of fifteen players plus nine more. Not too bad for a three hour trip north (plus some players out for injuries). The b-side match, which I played the full time, was a different story. Brandywine apparently has a real a-side and b-side, set apart by skill and experience, and we tied them 17-17. It was a good game, and we were pretty evenly matched in skill and play. I didn't have any especially good plays on this day, but missed no obvious opportunities, either.
One Brandywine fellow got his first try, and "zulued." As he ran by, we sang, "It's a small world after all."
My legs felt like lead at the end of the match... I played more rugby than I actually wanted to! (Made up for last week.) But hey, when I was needed, I was there. We then headed to West Chester, PA for the party, and hung out for awhile. These parties are a lot more fun now that I'm getting to know the club members better. Watched a bunch of lady ruggers get drunk, and left. Kelly Watkins drove me, Ferdie and TJ, which was a pleasant change (in 15 years of reenacting I've been a passenger but once), and we jawed all the way up and back.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 23 March
It wasn't much of a practice but at least it was something. According to Fairfax County we were supposed to be at NOVA's pitch this evening, but they were there. So we drove all the way back to Dunn Loring and did about 20 minutes of HFS.
Thursday Evening Practice, 25 March
A really easy practice. Since I'm not playing in the tournament this weekend I spent most of the practice providing defense and opposition for the people who are planning to attend. I'm "taking it easy" by doing the Old Boys game against the Poltroons on Sunday. (That's more than a match every weekend for an entire month, with no missed practice.)
I'm working on my rucking style, which is essentially to come in fast and hard sideways at the midpoints of defenders/tacklers, and go to ground setting the ball. This seems to work since I have long arms and can place the ball well away from opposition. My weight works to my advantage, here, too. (At practice one evening someone said my rucking like this was "...like having a tree falling on you.")
I also got a little experience playing prop in the unopposed scrums we were doing. It's bumpy up there on the front row! Whereas second row uses a lot of upper leg strength, front row seems to be concentrated in the upper back and shoulders. I have rather narrow shoulders for my size (like George Washington - I've seen his regimental coat and it looks like it would fit me) so I'm not sure if I'm suited to prop. Still, I might try at some point, despite Steve McNair's claims of needing a 20" neck.
OLD BOYS MATCH AGAINST THE POLTROONS SUNDAY 28 MARCH
Another match with the barging, off-sides and frequently elbow, forearm and stud-throwing Old Boys! This time the Poltroons came in force with all sorts of new players - some of whom looked tough and military - but it didn't help as we beat them 22-12.
I avoided humiliation by catching a kickoff ball (I hate it when I fumble those), but I was unable to do anything nice with it like run up the field because as soon as I caught it the only Poltroon with any pace was on me. Drat! Anyway, I stopped what looked like a sure try by their biggest guy (a 280 pounder). I'd like to say I tackled him, but what I actually did was to throw myself in his path to stop him. It's a bad habit because in a tackle one must wrap one's arms around the opponent. I've done this "flying roadblock technique" three times now and haven't been penalized - just lucky with the referees, I guess.
Scrums were sometimes a case of us easily pushing them, sometimes them easily pushing us. Weird. (Must have been Poltroon substitutions.) I jammed my thumb somehow and it's stiff and swollen.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 30 March
For some unaccountable reason the coaches weren't present, so we were left to the tender mercies of club president Kevin Corry, who ran us ragged. Well, ran me ragged, anyway. We did Indian Runs. (Running around the track doing front-to-rear ball-passing, with the guy at the end sprinting to the front.) I hate Indian Runs. This session gave me a vivid concept of what hell could be like: doing Indian Runs in a short line of backs. Anyway, my stomach knotted up after 2 1/2 laps of our 3 lap run so I wimped out. Then we did ball passing and a rather extended HFS. More ball passing, and then shuttle runs. (Another favorite.) I never thought I'd write this, but I missed the coaches!
In most of these fitness sessions I am somewhere just under giving up, but we exceeded this threshold a few times. But... in all the effort to keep going I ignored the pain from my thumb, and now (Wednesday morning), it seems to have pretty much subsided, and I don't even have the post-workout soreness in my legs and ankles. This tells me that after two months of practice and four consecutive weekends of matches we're at the height of rugby season, in the groove. I will never be more fit!
Thursday Evening Practice, 1 April
A very humid evening; we were all sweating like mad. Coach Lyster had us doing nothing but ball-passing and ball-handling exercises and drills. I was just sort of burned out for this. It's like the first warm evening of the year in reenacting - very hard to take in wool clothes. The first warm humid day in April was always harder to take than a warm humid day in July. So, too, was this practice.
A-SIDE AND B-SIDE MATCH AGAINST NEWPORT NEWS SATURDAY 3 APRIL
I got to start with the a-siders in this match, a problem of sorts being apparent with the second row (I guess someone didn't show up in time). Anyway, I was pleased and honored to play the first half "varsity," with Tom Loesel taking over in the second half. I had probably my best and most assured game thus far. As it was a warm afternoon, we were all hot and sweating, even in short sleeved red practice jerseys. Anyway, we won 52-10 and I certainly contributed to this effort, there being a lot of good hard forward play.
The b-side game was originally set up to be two 15 minute sides - there being a lot of recycling on both sides - but about ten seconds after the kickoff one of our players broke his leg in a tackle! It was his first game, and he didn't even have any practice time in. (I would never attempt such a thing, at any age.) So after twenty or thirty minutes waiting for the paramedics to show up, we began again - long after I had lost interest or edge. The match became one 20 minute side. We won fairly easily, there being some new Newport News players. Anyway, I suspect a club record for bone breakage was probably set this day.
The other distinguishing thing about this great day of sport was me, Club Mormon, driving Crazy Eddie down to Newport News and back, dude. My ears are still ringing from the rock music required to psych him up for a match. (Good thing I'm partially deaf in one ear...)
Tuesday Evening Practice, 6 April
We did a lot of running and ball-passing on this day, but I was just not up for it. I don't know if it was warm weather, not eating dinner or just plain being worn down, but it was not mentally an especially good practice for me. Oh, it was a good workout, but as Kevin Corry once said, "I just didn't get fired up."
Coach Harpold suggested that I might be playing a-side again this coming weekend, and that I did well last Saturday. Well, good - it's nice to see all that investment in time and interest paying off! One thing's for sure, however, I have little interest in playing Old Boys. It's not that I don't like Old Boys play especially - it's just that I want to play with the guys I practice with, and that means b-side and, occasionally, a-side.
Thursday Evening Practice, 8 April
The worst practice so far. We were doing some ruck and run, when Jeremy - one of our Mercurial backs and an especially nice guy - got his arm broken (I heard the snap this time), which led to another paramedic on the field. This set the tone for the rest of the practice, which was fractious, dispiriting and generally bad karma all around. We were supposed to be doing wrapping, not tackling, and at half speed to emphasize form, but some guys were going all out at pace which was just getting Harpold angry. I was very happy to finish, especially since I came down hard on my right knee at one point and could feel it swelling up. I think I can still run, but as of this writing (Friday morning) it's tender and sore. After practice Jeff asked if I wanted to play a-side again this weekend, and I mostly told him it's up to him. Then I went to P.J.'s for awhile with some of the guys and rehydrated myself with two glasses of Coke and three glasses of ice water; it was very warm.
A-SIDE MATCH AGAINST WEST POTOMAC SATURDAY 10 APRIL
An appropriate conclusion to the bad karma week: we arrived at our home pitch only to find out we didn't have it reserved due to a screw-up with Fairfax County, so we had to wait a few hours for girls' soccer matches to end. The a-side was supposed to play Roanoke (a Division III club), but Roanoke only showed up with eight guys. So we played West Potomac A instead (another Division III club). I started with the a-side again, for the third time!, and played the first half. It was a rather nasty match, but we took it out on them on the scoreboard, beating them 16-7, with all of the scoring taking place in the first half I played. A few fights broke out, one of which was because one of their guys was trying to stop a maul that was going our way (I was shoving mightily) by grabbing a leg and attempting to trip us up - a dangerous and foolish thing to do. Another good effort was a mighty five meter scrum that led to a try for us. So, I didn't score this match either, but contributed as a forward packer should.
As my knee was swollen and sore from a ruck on hard dirt at practice Thursday, I opted not to wait around for the SOB's vs. West Potomac Old Boys match that was delayed until 6 pm. Hopefully, by next weekend's match with South Jersey it'll be better.
There was no b-side game, which was a major bummer, there being a full side of b-side players in attendance.
Thursday Evening Practice, 15 April
I didn't attend Tuesday practice this week because Ethan had a lacrosse game and I had a cold.
Tonight's practice was actually fun and a much better atmosphere than last week. We mostly did some attacker-defender ball-passing drills, then some light, unopposed ruck-and-run. It was pretty easy, which was fine by me because I'm still shrugging off the cold I got Monday; I probably wouldn't have been able to do a lot of hard running.
To say we're going to be travelling light for this weekend's match may be an understatement. We may have a side but that's about it. I'm pretty sure I'll be playing a-side again, perhaps for the entire match this time. That's fine - then I can say I've played an entire regulation-length match. South Jersey is insisting on a b-side match as well, so I may be playing more rugby than I want! Geez, I hope I feel better by Saturday afternoon; I've only been getting 4,3 or 5-hours sleep at night this week and it's taking a lot out of me.
I may be getting burned-out with rugby. I've attended every practice save two, and played every weekend since 6 March. That's a lot for a geezer like me! I'm really looking forward to the BYE weekend after this one.
A-SIDE MATCH AGAINST SOUTH JERSEY SATURDAY 17 APRIL
I may have been burned out with rugby on Thursday night, but by the time Saturday rolled around I was fit and ready for an a-side match and a b-side match. I carpooled with Tom Loesel, Chris Bagnulo and Marco. It was nice and cool and cloudy, and the pitch was green. Unfortunately, playing wasn't in the cards. About 15 or 20 minutes into the first half of the a-side match, my right ankle started to hurt - I'm not sure what caused it. (It could have been kicked at some time.) Anyway, I decided to continue playing, thinking the pain would go away as it usually does, and did some limpy running from breakdown to breakdown. In a scrum, however, I found I couldn't put any pressure on the ankle, and it quickly became apparent that something was wrong because I couldn't walk without occasional sharp pain. What's more, it felt like something was moving around in the ankle that shouldn't be moving around. So I limped to the bleachers with the help of some teammates, put ice on my ankle, and wretchedly watched the rest of the a-side match and the b-side match with Mike Clark, who hurt his shoulder. We both sat there and watched our club go down 30-35 (a-side) and 36-24 (b-side), and felt miserable and useless - all the more so since we traveled light, and needed every man available.
Earlier this season I wrote that hell was doing Indian Runs with backs. Well, sitting out an injury during my first opportunity to play what would have been my first regulation-length two sides with the club a-side is worse. Damn, damn, damn.
After the match we drove to South Jersey's club - "the Varsity Inn" - and socialized. Two Jersey players celebrated their first tries, which, of course, made me feel even worse. (Despite the fact that I materially helped in a good strong pushed maul into Jersey's try line for our first try - a good forward pack effort and usually the ways locks contribute to the team's showing on the scoreboard.) Finally, we left, and on the freeway I realized I had left behind the rugby hat I received as an award for being the "most improved." (I later called the manager to have him mail it back to me.)
Elvis - an authority on rugby injuries having experienced them all first-hand - says I probably sprained the ligament on my ankle, it being what I feel moving across the bone. When it's in place, it's fine. When it moves out of place, it hurts and I can't walk on it. He says it'll be okay in a week or so. We have a BYE week coming up - I guess I'm not going to practice this week. Maybe I can make the PAC matches.
Journal, I am just disgusted beyond words.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 20 April
I'm not going to practice tonight. 1) Ethan has a lacrosse game, and 2) My ankle still hurts. I talked to a doctor yesterday, who told me I had a sprained ligament. I could have saved the $10 and just listened to Elvis! I'm walking better than I was over the weekend; there's still swelling, but overall, it's not bad.
My disappointment went away Sunday morning when I reflected on something I had seen at the match. One fellow, in a wheelchair, had positioned himself across the pitch and was alone, watching the match. No telling what he was thinking. So I'll remember to count my blessings, heal sooner or later, and play another day.
Thursday Evening Practice, 22 April
I showed up dressed not to practice but to report on my ankle and to socialize. (Kelly tells me that showing up after an injury is a good thing to do. Must be a Red Badge of Courage thing of some sort.) Anyway, standing on the sidelines and watching others exercise is no fun. But somebody has got to do it, I guess. I also went to P.J. Skidoos afterward for a Coke, seeing as how I wouldn't be seeing these guys for another week. Had to explain that one to Cari when I got home.
This is a difficult time...
Thursday Evening Practice, 29 April
Didn't go to practice on Tuesday, as it was my birthday. Attended but didn't take part, as last week. (I can walk easily but not yet run, as I learned when I tried it on my front lawn.) Took some pictures, held Sean Page when he woke up, and talked to people. Jeremy, the fellow who broke his arm, now has plates, pins and long scars - whew!
Hopefully, I can do some running in the next Tuesday practice.
Matchs against PAC, Saturday 1 May
I didn't play today as my ankle isn't healed yet; I just hung out and watched Suburbs get tromped 45-7 (a-side) and 74-7 (b-side). Ouch. Right now my ankle is kind of iffy on unflat surfaces, and that ligament still twings around occasionally - but I want to play in this coming Alumni game.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 4 May
Well, I gave it the old school try this evening. Taped up my ankle tightly, then wore the soft ankle brace I shelled out $25 for - and arrived at the field in pain! I had gotten a little too enthusiastic with the wrapping and had to remove it.
So, I did a couple of limpy laps round the track - well behind everyone else - and did the usual stretching exercises and the now familiar New Zealand Cross (which the guys call "four corners.") Not too bad. We then did an Indian run - I made it for one lap before the ligament started to twang on me, and had to give up. Then, you might know, we played touch rugby. I started, and was hopeless at keeping up, so I quit and went home and mowed the lawn.
Mowed the lawn.
I don't want to mow the lawn, and I don't want to go home early. I don't want to feel like my body is betraying me; like I'm old and broken. This absolutely sucks.
But there's nothing for it but to try again on Thursday, and to play at least a 20 minute period on Saturday. Then heal up for fall.
Thursday Evening Practice, 6 May
My ankle is somewhat better. I ran a total of twelve laps around the track while everyone else played bugger, and the ligament only twanged once (but it was a big twang - I had to stop). One thing that really makes a difference is running in flat-soled sneakers as opposed to studded rugby boots, which cause more lateral forces on my ankle. I think I'll wear my moulded stud soccer shoes this weekend - that should help.
As it was my last practice of the season I went out to P.J. Skiddoos after practice for awhile. Since I'm not going to the Olde Gaelic Tournament (sounds like a big drinking thing) the Alumni Match on Saturday is my last hurrah - if I play.
ALUMNI MATCH AGAINST THE WSRFC A-SIDE SATURDAY 8 MAY
I did get my twenty minute period in during this match, but it was certainly my worst game of the season. The grass was rather long and uncut - and therefore tufty - and presented me with running problems. In fact, I was quite slow. Also, my ability to push was very impaired, and while our Old Boy scrums were usually okay, I had a hard time stopping a maul. I also missed a tackle. Today (Sunday) the ligament is twanging around a lot more than it did last week (but not really hurting, just moving) so I may have made things worse. So the moral here is - don't play when injured. At least not if you don't heal quickly. (And what 43 year old does?)
Oh, yeah, the score: Young Boys beat the Old Boys/Alumni 34-17. A lot of alumni showed up for this one - there were lots of faces I didn't recognize. Also, Old Boy Jeff Bush broke his nose - it looked pretty bad, and away he went to the hospital (but not before I got another ghoulish photo for the website).
I got a big team photo before it started to rain, and we gathered at the Clubhouse afterwards. I then left, and said my goodbyes until August.
So there's the end to my second season in rugby. I played eight games and fractions and additions thereof; some a-side, some b-side, and some Old Boys. I attended every practice session save about six due to Ethan's lacrosse, the injury and a birthday. I have gained a lot of playing confidence, and have a much better grasp of the game than I did in the Fall season. There's always room for improvement, of course, but now I'm playing and actually enjoying it. (Last season I played more because I felt I had to answer a personal challenge.)
No try yet, but I guess that's okay. Just before the South Jersey game I posted a question about how often locks make trys to scrum.com's bulletin board. The response I got was that if I'm playing to make trys I'm playing for the wrong reason, and, secondly, because rugby is the world's greatest team sport every try is really a team effort. There is some truth to this. Just before I felt the ankle sprain in the Jersey match I took part in a great maul into the try zone for a score that I considered personal.
But perhaps I'm rationalizing!
Another high point of the season was building up fitness and friendships with the guys I see at practice all the time, and, I think, a good reputation with the club. Doing the website has been a blast, and I got lots of good comments about it. One fellow said it's like watching TV...
So while Suburbs plays Summer Sevens - which doesn't appeal to me - and I do the secretarial duties from home and office, I'll heal so I can once again sprint and play on my ankle, let my bruised knees get back to normal and resume my duties as husband and father.
I finished my third season! Click here for the continued rugby adventures of a pathetic, middle-aged man in search of what Ponce deLeon was unable to find.