If you're looking for a fun way to burn off a lot of calories and blow off a lot of steam -- why not join a team? "We encourage anyone... any shape, size, interest to come out and give it a shot!" Jeff McHenry is a member of the Des Moines Men's Rugby Club and also helps coach the women.
When the team invited us to visit a practice, we said "Sure!" and at first, it seems like it's something we can handle. We start with jogging laps around the field and then do some simple stretching. Drills are next -- first simple passes standing still, but then things start moving. As soon as we pass, we loop around to the back of the pack so the entire team is moving like one giant organism. It's not easy and the sprinting has our hearts pounding but it's nothing compared to what's next.
"If you have glasses, take them off," yells Jeff, "I'll hold them for you." And soon, we see why. Coach Sean Wieser demonstrates the "truck and trailer" drill. In it, he runs toward the backs of two players who are standing next to each other with their arms around each other's shoulders, ramming into their backs with his shoulders. Then he whips around, and sprints in the opposite direction toward another pair that is linked up the same way. The best way to envision this is to think of the linked players as a training sled. During this drill we constantly trade places, so you hit-- and get hit. "It's definitely a different kind of strength and conditioning you have to have out here..." explains Jeff. "Running on a treadmill is a lot different than coming out here and playing rugby."
Speaking of running, it doesn't take long for us to be back at it. We are doing more ball handling drills-- each one is more complicated, requiring more speed, agility and teamwork. Oftentimes, we have no idea where we're supposed to go or what we're supposed to do! Jeff finally gives up on the most complicated passing drill and moves on to full out sprinting. By the end we are dying and positive that practice must be almost finished. Instead we find out that it's time to scrimmage.
"All I know is that you can only pass backwards," I explain to Jeff and the team. Sonya nods in agreement and when we first start playing it is obvious that we have no idea how to play this game. We spend a lot of time apologizing to our teammates for bad passes and dropped balls, but as the sun sinks and the shadows on the field get longer we start getting the hang of things. There is cheering and laughing and a great sense of camaraderie. We have worked our tails off and had fun doing it.