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Alaska experience "humbling" for USA

The USA 7s squad recently visited Alaska as part of their ongoing work to spread the game. National player  Kate Zackary tells us about the trip.

With our rain jackets and boots, the USA Women’s Sevens team took off for Anchorage, Alaska on a mission to #growthegame.

Heading into the week, we knew it would it be busy, but I’m not sure anyone really grasped just what was ahead.

Kicking off the week with a morning activation session, we ran stairs in the nearby mall before breakfast. By 7:30, we piled into two separate vans and descended upon Alaska's elementary and middle schools - this would take place every morning that week.

We were split into six groups consisting of three players and one staff member. Our groups encountered different scenarios at each school, some spoke at assemblies, while others directed P.E. classes. No matter the situation though, the message was the same - get out and play, study hard, set goals, and have fun.

After interacting with area youth, our team headed up the mountain side to one of the most beautiful pitches I have ever seen. Justin Green, owner of Alaska Demolition, found himself sitting around with buddies one evening discussing rugby, or the lack thereof, when “lightbulb” - why don’t we build a rugby field and start a youth rugby programme moment took place.

Back to the present, and Anchorage is now home to The Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds  and Alaska Youth Rugby .The field consumes Justin’s front yard, it is regulation size and comes complete with uprights and the occasional moose. You will find grass so luscious, that you just might use the clippings for a pillow.

Every afternoon we continued our training, this was no vacation!

After enduring a drought and warm weather back in California, we were welcomed with 50 degree weather, wind and rain all week. The training conditions were certainly an adjustment. Practices may have been wet and cold, but thanks to the hospitality of our hosts, we not only had a locker room and warm showers, but an industrial sized coffee machine with TWO pots.

Two nights that week, we had the pleasure of visiting Lorrie Clifford and Alev Kelter’s homes where we were greeted with good ole’ homecooking. Even though we all enjoy a good meal, the real treat that week was a meet and greet with local rugby families. The evening was spent not discussing rugby with parents, but rather filled with games of tag, keep away, and even push-up contests with the kids. I will say, this might have been one of the best nights during the trip - we were asked to be kids again and just play. Too often I think we get caught up in our “job” as an athlete, and forget why we started playing in the first place. That night, we left more out of breath and sore than some of our practices. (Don’t tell the coach!)

With each passing day, the buzz about rugby in local schools grew. As we departed classrooms, we left behind rugby balls for the P.E. classes and after school programmes. Kids began to ask how they could start playing, and we could see the spark in their eyes. They were hooked.

Before leaving Anchorage Saturday night, Alaska Youth Rugby organised an hour long camp for kids, followed immediately by an exhibition scrimmage. Thanks to the help of local rugby teams, we were able to accommodate over one hundred kids of all ages, and run them through drills such as handling and 2v1’s.

The week in Alaska was an extremely humbling experience.

Every morning we were greeted with a warm smile from a different local rugger, and at every school we were met by an excited staff and student body. They welcomed us into their community, which served as a reminder of why we play rugby, why we train as hard as we do - we want to represent our country and make our fellow American ruggers proud.

To all those who made this trip possible, on behalf of the USA Women’s Sevens team, I thank you! We look forward to coming back!

Kate Zackary

Kate Zackary is a member of the USA Sevens squad. She was a star soccer player at Benedictine College before graduating and coaching a local youth programme. She currently owns a gym in Kansas.