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Lineouts and Love

Economics, St. Augustine, and the Harvard Women’s Rugby Team.

In the past year of ruminating in these pages, I’ve reflected very little on the sport that consumes most of my life during the fall semester. A curious decision, especially given the outsized influence that rugby has on my life here at Harvard.

Perhaps that is because it is difficult for me to articulate just why I would choose to do such a thing. As an Economics concentrator, I can assure you that there are no rational actors running around on that pitch, myself included. Rugby is not for the risk-averse. We gladly put our bodies on the line, sacrifice heaps of our time, and incur opportunity costs upon opportunity costs, for…what exactly?

Even though most of us won’t go on and compete professionally after college, we will probably spend more time on the practice field, in competition, and in the gym than in the classroom. We will make superhuman efforts to contort and twist our academic and extracurricular schedules to preserve that 4 to 7 p.m. practice window, dragging ourselves out of bed to make those early morning lifts in and out of season and wondering if we are missing out on everything Harvard might have to offer during all those hours we spend across the river.

We certainly don’t play for the recognition, as it’s not like the Harvard student body turns out en masse for our sports teams on any day other than The Game. The crowds are usually sparse, sometimes even for playoffs and championships, and mostly consist of parents, other athletes, or maybe close friends and roommates if we’re lucky. It’s a shame, really, because the athletic community has so much pride in competing for this school, and we wish the Harvard community at large would share in the pride and honor we have.

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In light of these not-entirely-marginal costs and challenges, it’s worth considering what drives me and my teammates to be on that pitch day in and day out. If you ask us, we will tell you that we play because we love our sport. We play because we love our teammates. We play because we love our school. That’s quite a cheery take on the matter, isn’t it?

Realistically, it’s hard to love rugby as you trek across the river for the second time of the day, almost three months into the season. It’s hard to love your teammates when you’re all stressed over midterms and playoff preparation, and see basically only each other over the course of the season. It’s hard to love our school when some of our classmates subtly insinuate that we are less academically qualified than they are because we’re athletes.

If being on this team for the past three seasons has taught me anything, it is that love is far from the flowery, hippie, irrational, inexplicable “feeling” of attraction that our culture so often seems to imagine it is. If this were the kind of love my teammates and I had for our sport and each other, there would be no rugby team at Harvard.

Athletics is full of platitudes, such as the notion that “we’re playing the sport we love” or “we love our teammates,” and while these phrases certainly reflect a shared sense of purpose and community, I must rebel against their casual and commonplace use. The love that carries our team is one of intention, habit, and sacrifice. Make no mistake: to love someone (or something) is to make a choice to do so. It is not a feeling. Love is not something you “can’t help” but do.

St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions that “my weight is my love. Wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me.” Our daily habits, commitments, and practices are expressions of what we chose to love. It’s not a question of whether we will love something, but what we will love.

With this idea of what genuine love really looks like, I see what a profound act of love it is when your team continues to wake up for lift, put in hours on the practice field, and compete with ferocity and spirit even when midterm season arrives and doesn’t leave, when physical fatigue starts setting in, and when hours of sleep slip away from you.

It is this love that sustains and persists when superficialities like “overcoming adversity” and “becoming the best” don’t move us. It is this love that forgives flaws, imperfections, and mistakes, keeping no record of wrongs. It does not shy away from difficult conversations in fear, but reaches out to others in truth.

This love is why we play.

Grace M. Chao ’19 is an Economics concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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