Monday, December 30, 2013

Meet Katherine "Big Blue" Gorham

Editor's note: Big Blue was another very early roster invite from the original Facebook chain that brought the team together. Just under 4 weeks ago a few messages were exchanged - I myself didn't have a set team as neither  my Chicago Lions Women's 7s side nor the Beavers International 7s team were entering this year. I had tentative plans to play with Seattle, based on jumping in a match with them at last year's LVI and keeping in touch with Jess at the stadium (they had AMAZING fancy dress costumes) and during our club 7s season/national championships. 
Then John "Doc" Tinsley initiated a facebook message amongst ruggers he knew were looking for a team to play with in Vegas. Our nomad/whore team quickly together and both numbers and talent grew. More friends (and friends of friends) joined in and I reached out to my domestic and international rugby network to fill in roster spots for a 2nd side. I'm excited to meet Katherine in person as a fellow Chicago rugger (Despite living in Wisconsin I commute 2+ hours to play Division 1 Women's Club Rugby for both 15s and 7s; I just accepted a position yesterday to return to Chicago). 
The Chicago rugby community is a tight knit group and I'm hoping she gets more entrenched as her work schedule allows. This should be a Stars friendship that endures locally too. Plus the Chicago Sirens team is taking a team to Kenya for 7s next year! - Liz
In her words:
I will never forget the first time I witnessed rugby - I was 10 years old and watching a Harvard rugby match with my hero: Papa Joe (my grandpa!). I thought that when they had a scrum everyone was hugging one another, which is ironic because at the time my little 10 year old self thought, "Wow! Rugby must have a lot of camaraderie on the team and between opponents," and my 23 year old self still believes that today!!  
I have been the tomboy/athlete of my family for as long as I can remember, constantly traveling from one game to the next and playing on a variety of sports teams all at the same time. I have lost count of the number of traveling softball and basketball teams I participated in, and I was fully invested in varsity softball, basketball, and cross country in high school. Softball was my main expertise, and my whole family put me on the fast track to getting a scholarship for softball in college....but suddenly as I started college I had a mini life crisis and backed out of the team. Everyone was crushed - my family, my coaches, etc. that the dream we all had put so much time and effort into was suddenly gone. 
I had a lot of guilt from not pursuing collegiate softball because it was what everyone else wanted me to do, and it was one of the toughest decisions I had to make. But now, I couldn't be more grateful that I did.
That was the first time I took a leap of faith on my own and decided that I wanted to start gaining a wide variety of experiences from college rather than just zoning in on Division I softball. I signed up for rugby IMMEDIATELY, again on another leap of faith, and found my true love for life. I played rugby for the first time in a pair of converse sneakers, because my cleats hadn't come from my home in Boston yet, and at my first practice I received the name that I respond to more than the one I was given at birth: Big Blue. 
What instantly struck me the most about rugby was the infinite amount of support amongst teammates, and how support is the most dire of skills that a rugby team needs in order to succeed. Everyone is a leader and follower at the same time, and everyone is appreciated for exactly who they are. There's no cookie cutter mold for a rugby player - no matter your size or shape, every player brings very special, unique, and important skills to a team. I also think rugby is a prime example of karma, because you will get out of rugby exactly everything that you put into it. I have seen players with great natural skills crumble from poor effort and/or life decisions, and players with no natural skills succeed beyond imagination from their immense efforts and spirit. Respect is also a common theme amongst teammates, towards your coach, towards the referee of a match, and even towards your opponents. I love how rugby opponents pretty much beat the crap out of each other and then become comrades afterwards! What an amazing tradition that is so deeply honored! 
I have fully invested myself into becoming a player and "rugby philosopher" (I even made a "rugby philosophy" poster in college that I still have today!), constantly wanting to learn and expose myself to as much rugby as possible. When I wasn't playing rugby, I was watching it, studying it, or dreaming about it. I have an extensive amount of notes that I've scribbled down on paper towels or the back of a receipt from times where I've learned something new or unique at a practice or game. I even started a rugby blog with personal rugby updates, rugby resources, and general rugby discussions! 
 I was so lucky to be able to have experiences on New York State's U23 team, Buffalo Women's Rugby, and Boston Rugby...while also flinging myself around to random teams who needed another player. After graduating college in 2012, I moved here to Chicago to fulfill a year of service in AmeriCorps. I worked as a social worker in a group home for high school aged boys until my service term ended in June 2013. I still do this for a career today, working in the same group home with male youth primarily from the South Side that have experienced very severe mental health issues and trauma. I think rugby's emphasis of "rolling with the punches" and constantly getting up after getting knocked down has really helped me in my job and in my life.
My career's excruciating hours have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible at times, to play rugby on a consistent basis. I work from 2pm to sometimes midnight or later, and every day it kills me that Chicago has so many rugby opportunities right around me that are in my grasp yet not reachable right now. But I have made it a priority to not let rugby go and take full advantage of every opportunity I can get! I ran the Chicago Marathon last year and did a Tough Mudder race, all with the intentions of being ready to jump back into rugby at any second. I pop in and out of practices with the Chicago Sirens whenever I get the random chance; I feel guilty because I'm practically like Zorro - showing up and then vanishing for a while! 
I am eternally grateful for this opportunity to play with and witness some of the best competition from such a variety of places. Major shout out to Cara Thayer, a fellow alumni of Canisius Women's Rugby, who roped me into this loop! Out of sheer chance I asked her if she had any rugby games I could watch her play when I travelled to Buffalo for a weekend, and South Buffalo Women's Rugby happened to need some players for a tournament! From there Cara informed me about this team and the rest is history. She has kept my dreams of being a fully competitive rugger alive! 
I plan on this sporadic rugby playing to be extremely temporary, and the minute I am able to make another career move I want to be sure that I am able to play full time rugby! These opportunities to play with some of the best are crucial. I cannot wait to meet ruggers from all over the place and learn valuable lessons from everyone....not to mention that ruggers are my favorite people to hang around! You all inspire me and keep me going!

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