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Raised on Rugby

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Happy Mother's Day! We've spent the week celebrating and highlighting moms in our community who play, coach, and referee. In this last installment, we are giving space to the daughters who were "raised in rugby" to share their experiences growing up in the game thanks to their moms.

Tess Feury

Age: 28

Mother: KJ Feury


Behind every female athlete is a network of strong women who paved the way for them. I am so grateful to have been raised in rugby by so many incredible, strong, and inspiring women. From my first rugby coach when I was 4 years old, to the referees at my high school games, to my college coach at Penn State, and to the countless athletic trainers who kept me on the field, I had the privilege to grow up around women in rugby. These women have shown me how to be confident in my body, how to push the limits, strive for more, fight for what we deserve and most importantly how to connect and make lifelong friendships with teammates and friends through this sport. Today, I have a very special thank you to the woman who believes in me more than anyone, who never misses a good luck wave before a game, and who has dedicated so much time & energy into growing the game, because she sees how positively it has changed her children’s lives. It takes someone strong to make someone strong, and I have my Mom to thank for that. Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I love you!

 

Ellis-Jean Gunter

Age: 22

Mother: Gwen DeGroff-Gunter


My mother says the reason why I can get along with almost anyone is because when I was a baby, I would be passed along the sideline as she played. I love the fact that rugby is such a tight-knit community; I can go anywhere in the world and see someone with rugby shorts or a jersey and start a conversation with them. I have also had teammates from all over the world, my best friend is from Ireland. I have played many sports but I have never experienced better teamwork. The friendship and camaraderie in rugby can't be surpassed. The sense of community is amazing and of course, hitting someone is the rush of a lifetime!


 

Annie Henrich

Age: 16

Mother: Lisa Huff Henrich


Being raised in rugby shaped my perspective on femininity, body image, confidence, and community. When I was little, I spent a lot of my summers on the sidelines of my mom's games and practices. Seeing women get stronger together builds a perspective that all people thrive when women build each other up. My mom and her teammates became my mentors, I strived for their muscular arms, empowering confidence, and steadfast determination. They taught me that femininity is individually defined. You can choose how you want to be, or don't want to be feminine - muscles, being tough, tackling people, and playing sports does not make a woman less feminine. In addition, my mom didn't separate her motherhood from her athleticism. The two are intertwined, allowing me to grow up in an environment of appreciation for what your body can do, rather than what it looks like. The inclusive community of rugby which accepts all sizes, races, sexualities, and gender identities taught me that I can, and should, take up space to make my voice heard. I grew up as a daughter of a brilliant rugby player, so I grew up believing that I can be whatever I want to be. Thank you to all the mothers that play rugby, especially my mom, you are all raising the empowered and feminist next generation.


 

Quinn Williams

Age: 18

Mother: Alex Williams


For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by rugby players. Some of my earliest memories are in hotels at tournaments both at home and abroad, running through the hallways or attempting a daring bike ride -encouraged by my many rugby aunties- down a staircase and into a wall. To be fair, they always made sure I was wearing my helmet. I remember falling asleep in the van at Nationals and being carried into the hotel by one of the players. I have many memories of falling asleep during meetings in the hotels. With the Surfers, I would stand in the center of the circle before games, and everyone would put their hands on my head for good luck. Looking back, these experiences of being surrounded by an extremely kind and welcoming group of people really helped to shape me into the person I am today. From the rugby players that I grew up around, I learned what toughness looked like, both physical and mental, and what true community is. I have recently begun to play rugby myself and found that it is just as welcoming when you are a player as when you are essentially the team mascot. As college looms ever closer, I know that wherever I end up going I will be able to find my people and that those people will be rugby people.


Quinn was born into rugby, attending their first Women’s Rugby World Cup as a staff member/team mascot at age 6 months in 2006 and their second WRWC in the same role four years later. They also spent years hanging out at practices, games, and tournaments, first with the Berkeley All-Blues and then with the San Diego Surfers.

 

Macey Barnett

Age: 22

Mother: Kerri Heffernan


As a little girl, I loved two things, horses and the Brown University women’s rugby team. Until I was 15 years old, my mom was the rugby coach at Brown University. I was so proud of my mom’s job that I would wear the team sweatshirts and jackets to school. I went with her to practices and traveled with the team to games, including some long road trips. Some of my earliest memories are of squeezing my head between the players' knees to get into the sweaty circle they’d form before and after practices and games. It was often muddy and cold, and I remember the sweat steaming off their bodies and the f-bombs they were dropping. To me, all the players were big but they were never ashamed of their size or tried to hide their muscles or bruises. They flexed and proudly showed off their giant bruises. I thought big shoulders and legs like tree trunks were normal for women.


Before games started, they would slip tight jerseys on over shoulder pads and transform into superheroes. I watched them tackle and hit, not just the other team but also each other in practice. They’d yell at one another, not in anger but with urgency, “Get here now!”

As I have gotten older I think I understand the players more. I think about the strength in that rugby circle, they were arm-in-arm, before and after a game, looking each other in the eye, giving each other strength and courage and when they released each other they knew that each could be counted on. I want to be like those women: accountable, powerful, courageous, loyal, taking care of each other, expecting to win, and dropping an occasional f-bomb.


A final note from Mom:

I started bringing my daughter Macey to rugby games and practices when she was two years old. She spent the next twelve years on the sidelines. Weekends and vacations often revolved around rugby. She wore my rugby sweatshirts and jackets to school and was on a first-name basis with national team players and coaches. (When she was eight, her Halloween costume was ‘Emilie Bydwell’. She assumed every neighbor on the street knew who Em was). During her teens, my daughter struggled with ideas of what women are supposed to ‘be like,’ look like and care about. But being around women’s rugby for all those years seemed to inoculate her against the limited culture of beauty that undermines so many young girls. She understood that her body was functional and powerful, not merely ornamental. She learned from her time in rugby how to use her voice and advocate for herself. Macey is now 22, she never played rugby but she has grown to be a bold, beautiful, beast; raised by a pride of bold beautiful beasts. It’s a mother's feminist dream.

- Kerri Heffernan


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