It’s gotta be tough. Naming professional 7s athletes is one of the great hallmarks in American rugby, and while no one can bemoan the opportunities afforded our young athletes, there are veteran players who have been sacrificing for years in order to wear the Eagles jersey, and who could torment themselves with the question, “If only I were younger …”
It’s the cycle of life, but for many in the women’s 7s pool, the opportunity to be a resident is both at their fingertips and out of reach. Take Beth Black, for instance. A veteran on the international 7s scene, the 33-year-old was captain until the final of the Women’s International 7s Invitational in Las Vegas. The captainship was then handed to resident Deven Owsiany.
“That was one thing that was hard for me to take,” Black said, “but you want your captain to be your stronghold, someone you can always go to, and a resident is a great choice. Sometimes I come in late to tours, and you need your captain there at all times. There were no hard feelings; it was a great decision. We still work together, and it feels like a co-captainship. It’s not official, but it’s still a cool thing.”
Becoming a resident wasn’t a realistic option for Black, like several of her peers grounded outside of rugby.
“I’m established in the D.C. area,” Black explained. “I own a house, have a partner, a job I’ve been at for six years. It’s so tempting to say, ‘It’d be awesome to pick up, leave and just live a different life.’ But I’m 33 and know there’s a specific amount of time until your longevity is out, so to pick up and move everything for a very short amount of time didn’t make sense in my head.”
The staff is doing everything it can to keep the non-residents in step with the Olympic Training Center regulars, supplying in-depth training regimens that lead up to every event. And even though the veterans of the 7s pool are acclimated to what is essentially a second job training, the pressure continues to mount when weighed against the collective progress of the residents.
“We’ve called ourselves the taxi players, coming in and out [of camps],” Black said. “It’s been working well so far, but there are a couple of teachers – like Amy Daniels – who are getting a lot of push back from the schools. We get supported, but a lot of concessions are made to miss 30-40 days out of the school year. And all of the series is in the school year; none of it is in summer. It’s a stress to juggle everything, try to appease everybody and still be able to perform at your job and rugby.”
The added pressure only makes that “if only I were younger” fantasy more enticing.
“You can’t help it,” Black almost lamented. “I remember when I was 23 or 24 and wondered what I was going to do for a career and not worried about settling down. What better opportunity is there than being paid as a professional athlete? That’s been a dream of mine since I was four or five years old. It’s super tempting but you’ve got to make life work out.”
Even though Black and company aren’t technically professionals, they treat their rugby job with respect, and Suggitt has expressed that he has no apprehension that those athletes won’t come to camp prepared.
“You always have gnawing in the back of your head that you’ve got to be ready; you’ve got to be prepared for whatever’s coming up,” Black said of training on her own. “Not being a resident, you’ve got to take it upon yourself and find two or three people willing to work with you and do skills and do what we’re missing out on here.”
The residents live in enviable circumstances, but considering that only five of the eight contracted players are traveling to Hong Kong, the expertise of players like Black is greatly respected. And Black isn’t taking anything for granted.
“This isn’t a set squad. You have to perform every time,” Black said. “Ric says all the time that there will be people coming in, people coming out, and nobody’s a set deal. Yes, you have your resident for a year, and that’s a done deal, but anyone else, even the taxi players, have the possibility of movement in there.”