Rugby players make great nurses

Jennie runs the ball with Jessica close behind. Women’s Cougar Rugby played Washington Central in the final four tournament last year. Photo credit: Jennie Lewis

It’s not exactly typical for a nurse to go out and tackle someone, but three students in the BYU College of Nursing have gotten pretty good at it.

Ali Smith, Jessica Peterson and Jennie Lewis are all on the BYU women’s rugby team and studying to become nurses. These women tear down the stereotype of the brutal, blood-thirsty rugby player. Their voices are soft and gentle, faces smiling and ready to listen to whatever you have to say; everything you’d expect from a nurse.

“There’s kind of a juxtaposition between being a nurse and a rugby player,” says Smith, a third semester student from Washington. “I don’t think a lot of people who know me outside of rugby would picture me playing it. They think it’s too aggressive and mean, but really there’s a finesse about rugby that you wouldn’t guess is there.”

The women on the rugby team know how to play the game. Over the past decade Women’s Cougar Rugby has climbed to the top seat in Utah and has been consistently ranked as one of the best teams in the nation. Last season the team made it all the way to the national championships in Pittsburgh and is currently ranked third nationally. Because it’s a club sport, players have the responsibility of fundraising and scheduling for everything from games to transportation. They don’t seem to mind the extra investment.

“Playing on the team means more to me because I’m not being funded to do it; I’m paying out of my pocket to play,” says Lewis, an Arizona native also in her third semester. “My teammates and coaches make it worthwhile and you want to be as involved as possible. They all become your best friends.”

While juggling a busy sports schedule and nursing classes may not be easy, these athlete nurses have gained valuable perspective they feel will help them empathize with patients. “If a player comes in I know what they’re going through,” Smith says. “I know what it’s like to be on the sidelines and how hard it is to be hurt.”

Ali sprints forward. Players are constantly on the move in Rugby; the game only stops for injuries or penalties. Photo credit: Jennie Lewis

Peterson is a second semester student from Chicago and has had more experience with injuries than any athlete would ever want to. She is currently three months through the nine month recovery process for a torn ACL and has had multiple other sicknesses and injuries that have put her in the hospital.

“Going through the injury process for myself, I can see what makes a good doctor or a good nurse,” she says. “Now that I’m learning about it in the program I can see what I like and what I don’t. It’s given me a different view of how I want to be when I’m a nurse.”

These athletes also get to use their nursing skills on the field. Peterson remembers doing tackling drills with new teammates one practice. One girl went in to tackle, positioned her head wrong and ended up smashing another player’s nose. Broken noses bleed a lot, but the students (along with some student athletic trainers) knew what to do.

“We aren’t sponsored so we don’t really have our own trainers at practices to take care of injured players,” Peterson says. “It was so cool how immediately all of us knew what to do. We got up, grabbed the Medikit, helped her off the field and got her situated. It was neat to see how all of us could work together to make sure she was taken care of.”

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The Cougar Women’s Rugby team in April earlier this year. Ali and Jessica are on the back row and Jennie is in the front. Photo credit: Jennie Lewis

While some people might find rugby a vicious sport, these three athletes have learned about themselves and nursing by playing it. “I think what’s amazing about nursing is that it teaches you to emotionally be there for someone,” Lewis says. “I have friends who get hurt a lot and just being by their side and emotionally supporting them is something I’ve learned from the program. In a way it’s what the Savior would do.”

BYU Women’s Cougar Rugby is starting a new season and will have their first game against Air Force in Colorado Springs this Saturday. Their first home game will be October 17 at 11am. Go Cougs!

By Nate Brown—BYU College of Nursing public relations assistant

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