Now every athlete can say, "I play rugby."

The United States recently hosted an international clinic intended to educate the public, players, and coaches on a new variation of rugby that can be played by athletes of all abilities. While USA Rugby national office member joins the 2018 cohort for the United States Olympic Committee's Team USA Elite Program for Emerging Leaders in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement.

LAFAYETTE, CO. - In recent weeks, American rugby took two major steps forward in the advancement of inclusive and unified rugby. For the first time, the United States was home to an international clinic intended to educate the public, players, and coaches on a new variation of rugby that can be played by athletes of all abilities. While USA Rugby national office member, Katie Dyke, will join the 2018 cohort for the United States Olympic Committee's Team USA Elite Program for Emerging Leaders in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement.

In June Trust Rugby International in partnership with USA Rugby and with support from World Rugby- Spirit of Rugby partnership held a Unified Rugby Clinic in Washington DC. The DC rugby community was represented by prominent clubs across all age groups including Washington DC Youth Rugby, TC Williams High School Rugby, Washington Renegades Rugby club.

The clinic was a one-day event where clubs introduced the concept of Unified Rugby followed by an outdoor hands-on practice. Overall the clinic was intended to raise awareness of a new variation of how rugby is played that takes into account each player's specific skills and needs, including individuals with physical, cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

Unified Rugby is designed with several safeguards in place to ensure increased precautions are taken for individuals who are newer to the game or may need adjustments to meet their unique playing aptitudes. Unified teams are made up of a mix of players with and without disabilities.

The concept of Unified Rugby manifested nearly 30 years ago when a group of daycare workers, who also happen to play rugby, challenged the notion that individuals with disabilities cannot or should not participate in certain activities, especially activities that involve high-contact like rugby.

After developing a variation of the game that is playable for athletes of all abilities, the world's first team - Swansea Gladiators - was formed in Wales. A few short years later a second Wales team developed, called the Llanelli Warriors. By 2012 three additional groups were created; one in England, one in Italy, and another in Scotland.

Jamie Armstrong, a Trust Rugby partner in Scotland, explained how this variation of how rugby is being played is growing exponentially allowing certain individuals who have been previously excluded from the life-enhancing experiences that playing rugby and being part of a rugby team brings.

To date over eighteen Unified Rugby teams have formed in ten different countries; 60% of which created in the last two years. "It's an opportunity to support and encourage even more people to say 'I am a rugby player'" said Armstrong.

Unified rugby is upholding the most genuine representation of rugby values. Beyond sharing benefits of the game - camaraderie, friendship, confidence building, physical benefits - Unified Rugby also sends an important message that every athlete can find a home on the rugby pitch.

If you or someone you know is interested in starting a unified rugby team or by hosting a clinic, contact USA Rugby national office member Katie Dyke, at kdyke@usarugby.org for details.

This July, Katie Dyke will begin her course sessions with the 2018 cohort for the Team USA Elite Program. This program is designed specifically for emerging leaders in the Olympic and Paralympic movement. This is an excellent opportunity for Dyke to learn alongside 20 other emerging leaders to uncover managerial and leadership skills that directly apply to their role within their respective National Governing Body.