#WhyRugby: Finding acceptance in an unexpected community

Ray Torkelson shares his #WhyRugby story.

"No means no, Ray, I won't repeat myself again. You're not good enough," said the prop-like varsity basketball coach at Lewis & Clark College to me: a scrawny freshman from the surrounding Portland, Oregon, area who learned basketball at a remote boarding school nestled in the mountainous wilderness of northwestern Montana. This trying moment of rejection followed hours after I showed up to the gym just before practice started, an offense the coach would never forgive me for as I developed into a skilled hooper who, year-after-year, tried out for (and never made) the varsity basketball squad. Instead - besides a stint walking onto the varsity golf team, studies in philosophy and Chinese, a passion for music, and various extracurricular activities - there was one activity I unexpectedly came to love and continue loving beyond college: rugby union.

A Fijian international student with the L&C rugby club in my Mandarin language studies class sized me up and decided I was worth inviting to train with the men's team. I didn't hesitate to try as someone fairly open to new experiences. Still, I lacked confidence handling the egg-shaped ball with which these college ruggers were so skilled; I hadn't played contact sports since grade school, and my head was in the clouds trying to fit a round peg into a square hole (me and L&C's varsity basketball squad, respectively).

But something kept drawing me back. Despite my knock-ons, high tackles, boring moments in the back three (few opposing teams were versed at kicking making backfield defense a rather sleepy activity), and frustration with my other athletic pursuits, I always found joy coming to rugby practice and seeing the same friendly faces that genuinely wanted me to be part of their group. Our coach was helpful, the players were nice and the overall culture nurtured a positive social environment for new and old ruggers alike. Additionally, I found rugby everywhere I went: when I studied abroad in China, I flew to Hong Kong to see the 7s tournament for my birthday - a suggestion one of my rugby teammates at L&C made whose family in Hong Kong put me up there for free (no such international connections to speak of with the varsity basketball squad). In Beijing at Capital Normal University where I practiced basketball with their college team, Beijing's local Samoan club, the Beijing Brothers, picked me up to play in one of their weekend tournaments. So, #WhyRugby? Well, rugby was calling me, not the other way around.

Did we win any rugby championships at L&C? Nope. Was I always a starter? Not until my senior year. Were there injuries? Inevitably. Nevertheless, my collegiate introduction to rugby union was unforgettable, forever hooking me on the sport. Our coach even welcomed me to play with his club - the ORSU Rugby Jesters, or Oregon Sports Union, boasting its own several-acre farm property complete with field, uprights, stands and even housing. So, since graduating, I've continued playing the sport and expanding my skills. Nowadays, I not only play the game, but I also watch the game, I read news about the game and I intend to pursue further opportunities in the game such as refereeing and coaching.

The chip on my shoulder from basketball only motivates me to become a better member of the rugby community, a community I firmly intend to be part of for the rest of my life. One day I hope to have enough disposable income to significantly support and grow the men's club at Lewis & Clark, so some scrawny freshman distracted with other activities will learn quicker than I did: #WhyRugby, the sport drawing people like me to a game built on Integrity, Passion, Solidarity, Discipline and Respect. There exists no other such activity, and for this reason rugby will always hold a special place in my heart. That is my #WhyRugby story.

Ray shared his #WhyRugby story. Now it's your turn. Click here to tell us what rugby means to you, and be sure to follow USA Rugby Trust on Facebook and Twitter to see other stories like this one.