It was April 22 while watching Dayton Flying Pigs DII Women’s squad versus Louisville where the flame was ignited. Sure she would sit with me and watch parts of matches on TV and she had an interest but it was peripheral. She of course knew I wrote about rugby, creator of Rugby Nation USA and club writer for The Runner Sports but it was of passing interest to her, 19 years old and not too interested in what dad was doing but on that day in the wooden stands at the Dayton Rugby Grounds she said, “Dad, I want to play rugby.”
Payton Graves has always been an athlete, at 8 months she was walking like, well, like she was born to, by 5 she was hitting a wiffle ball like she was the embodiment of Ted Williams; whatever she wanted to do physically she did, at 19 she wanted to play rugby.
So she did. After the game she approached one of the Flying Pigs Women’s players nicknamed ‘Megatron’ and asked what she needed to do to play, before she could finish the question P-Rex was surrounded by smiling ruggers, a circle of excited voices all happily providing information on what to do which of course was…”Just show up!” So, she did just that.
Now, one thing you need to know about Payton is she’s only 4′ 11″ but what the Flying Pigs discovered is her heart is 7′ tall and powerful. She’s remarkably strong for any size but it’s her determination that is her greatest strength. She had hardly even touched a rugby ball but by the end of her first practice she was passing it with skill, hitting with aggression, and running, running, running.
After her first few weeks of practice I asked her, “How do you like rugby so far?” The answer came as it does so often from people who have recently discovered the game, “I love it!” The physicality, the speed, the togetherness, and acceptance; she was hooked and ready for her first match as a reserve winger eager for the contact and camaraderie.
Kevin, Fish, Shy, Barnes, Poe, Cynthia, and the rest…they bonded quickly as warriors seem to do just prior to battle. As Payton took the pitch for the very first time she knew she was a part of more than a team she was a member of a squad, a sisterhood and brotherhood, in other words…a rugby club.
Running on to the pitch for the first time was “exciting, an adrenaline rush.” These are similar emotions people feel as they head into combat, real combat. I should know, after 23 in the service of our country I’ve felt it too. While the overall purpose is vastly different the result of those you go into “battle” with, your brothers and sisters, is the same. It’s an addictive sense of togetherness and Payton discovered it with rugby.
She loves 15’s and there’s a chance 7’s will likely grow her love of the game; as the 15’s season came to an end and the 7’s season begins P-Rex said, “I’m looking forward to the challenge but mostly just spending time with my friends.”
Is there anything that describes playing rugby more than that? I don’t think so.
So, if you’re in the Dayton, Ohio area take some advice from Payton, “rugby is fun!” Come on out and give it a try.
Come watch! On June 17th Dayton, the city which hosted the USA Club Rugby Men’s DI National Championship in 1981, will host the annual Gem City 7’s tournament featuring Men’s and Women’s clubs as well as High Schools from across the region.