"Up until the last couple of years of my active playing career, I'd had way worse injuries in skating than in rugby—stitches from a blade in the leg, broken foot, broken arm, bruised face....though, those last two years of rugby may have caught me up."
I met rugby stalwart Jessa Giordano back in the late 90's, when she was fresh out of undergrad, a new member of the New York Rugby Club, and full of interesting stories. Her first trip with our rugby team was to the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day tournament, which is one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had, and not just because we got to ride on a parade float (which we subsequently broke, but that’s another story.) Unfortunately I’ll have to keep further details of that trip to myself in order to follow the golden rule—what goes on tour, stays on tour—but I can tell you why I’ve decided to feature Jessa here.
Jessa was born with club feet. The average person born with club feet may choose to follow the path of leisurely exercise that’s easy on the feet and ankles, but Jessa is not your average person. So what does she do? She becomes a competitive ice skater, and then a rugby player. Badass extraordinaire.
“I started gymnastics at four years old because my mother signed me up and I thought it was fun, even though looking back I was very mediocre (and it was a very good thing I chose skating when a choice had to be made...a 5'9" skater is tall but still possible...not so much with gymnastics). I didn't realize I liked playing actual sports until I was in college and found rugby, which was too late in my opinion.
When I was seven, I had friends who skated...and apparently it was on the list of "sports Jessa should try" to help out with my feet. I was born with club feet and had corrective surgery for it as a baby. I've always had awful ankle flexibility, with a tendency to walk with my feet turned in and to supinate. Skating was good in that it forces turnout and you push off the inside of your blade. And I was pretty ok at it from the beginning, which helped me stick with it. I'm a funny looking runner (or walker, or really anything on dry land) but on skates that goes away. I skated all the way through college, competitively for about 10 years. I was decent—nobody was ever going to confuse me with someone who was going to the Olympics—but I was good enough to have coaching as my job through college and compete at collegiate nationals (a far different beast from regular nationals, where most of the skaters don't go to regular school, let alone college).
I don't think I had really heard of rugby before college and I’d certainly never seen a game. I knew people who played at Mt. Holyoke—enough to know a team existed—and met some guys at Amherst College who played. As a side note, I also was better than average at chugging a beer. One friend from Amherst sat me down and said that between that chugging ability and my tendency to pick fights with him I needed to try rugby. I joined my sophomore year and was hooked from the first practice.
Up until the last couple of years of my active playing career, I'd had way worse injuries in skating than in rugby—stitches from a blade in the leg, broken foot, broken arm, bruised face....though, those last two years of rugby may have caught me up.
So how hard was it to decide to stop playing rugby? Yeah. Lots. A knee surgery followed by a foot surgery within 18 months of each other kind of clinched it. And Casey and I wanted to start trying for kids (yes, I know there are those amazing people out there who are parents *and* still play regularly; I am awed by them...and suspect they live a lot closer to their club than I do to NYRC). The few times we've "gotten the band back together" for Olde Love at one tournament or other have been the best possible ways to recapture everything that was great about our team...and I look forward to doing it again (Saranac 2016!). But these times also make it clear that not only does my body not recover like it once did, but more importantly that when I am missing rugby and think how much I want to play again, it's really that I want to play with *that* team again - not just anyone.
These days I run because it's free, it gets me outside (I detest the treadmill), makes me tired, gives me alone time, and because wine. And cheese. And beer. I'm amazed and impressed by friends who are able to run marathons (looking at you, Rachel.) The farthest I've ever run without walking is a 10K, and that was two years ago. Real runners are amazing!
My kids are also starting to get into sports. I think because both [my husband] Casey and I are active (he coaches Crossfit at the high school where he teaches and also works out at the local Crossfit/barbell club) the kids see it as normal to sweat and get out of breath on a regular basis. In addition to regular kids’ sports, they do Crossfit kids once a week and my son started track and field with a local club in the spring, and that partially came out of a couple times where he did a fun run before one of my longer races. They both like to "work out" with me when I'm using the bar/rings etc in our garage. They think "working out" is fun, and I hope it stays that way.”