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Personal Stories

How My Rugby and Academic Experiences Mirrored Each Other at University

By: A. Wayne McFarlane
A. Wayne McFarlane

When I think back at my experiences at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, during the early 1980's, two things come to mind. Struggling through classes and playing varsity rugby. The amazing thing is, my attempts at getting through classes and playing rugby really mirror each other.

First of all, many people believed I should not have been at University. I am learning disabled. When I entered Trent University, I was reading at a rate of only ten pages an hour and I had a difficult time spelling simple words. I had to rack my brain at spelling the word "enough". I would mix up the word "up", "but" and "by" when writing.

Now many people would also say I should not have been on the rugby field as well. I'm an arguable five foot eight inches. I did however have athletic shoulders, not the wide shoulders of a college running back, but the narrow-boned, sticking-out ones of a long distance runner.

Once on the team, I did not get the position of winger which traditionally goes to a small fast player. That went instead to two more experienced players. One of them, Peter, also had played for a Quebec provincial team. I was put into the position of inside centre, where a player might be built like a football linebacker or fullback.

At University it was always important to follow my schedule, get to all my classes, schedule time to do readings and write essays. I often left the library when it was closing. Saturdays and Sundays were scheduled for writing essays. I had to be very ill to miss a day of classes.

Rugby was the same way. I always made it to practice. Rugby was actually an important part of my overall schedule. It was an hour and a half each day during the fall, and a time to get away from the books and not to worry about school. It was my time to work out, and practice rugby with a bunch of good guys.

I worked hard at all my studies. I never got an "A" grade. I worked hard to keep my "C" average and to achieve my goal of obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree. I was proud being a learning disabled student who was achieving passing grades at a good University. With this came new self-esteem. I enjoyed the fact that I was a hard working student and was well liked by my peers in residence.

I was also proud to be on a university varsity team. My self-esteem was boosted every time someone asked about the rugby team, or when a fellow resident came out to see the team play. Being a traditional rugby player, my self-esteem was also boosted when people asked me how I got those scabs and bruises on my face.

I wasn't a star student, and I wasn't a star rugby player either. I ran hard and made most of my tackles. As a centre, a position where players do have the opportunities to scores tries, or what North Americans would call touch downs in football, I never scored one.

The most notable achievement I ever did in a single game was to block two punts. I did not knock the kicks down with my out stretch hands, but amazingly instead, both punts were blocked with my right cheekbone.

I used to think of myself as an "up and down" rugby player. What I mean by this, is that it seemed as if players from the opposing teams were legally and illegally always knocking me down. I would always quickly get back on my feet and get back into the play. I didn't have time to think about the hit, or whether it was legal or not. Nor did I have time to complain to the referee, I had to get back into the game.

When things did not go right in class, I also had to just move on. Sometimes I would struggle through the readings, not understanding it at all and then go to the tutorial and not say a word. I did not have time to dwell on it, I just had to start the next set of readings or continue my work on an upcoming essay.

At the end of my experiences at Trent University, I ended up with two items to put on my wall. One, was my Bachelor of Arts diploma. The other, a small plaque that was given to me and nineteen other graduating students for outstanding contributions to Trent University Athletics.

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