Friday, Jan. 15 was a lot of things. For many, it’s remembered as the second-ever Welcome Back Day. For others, it was just another Friday evening spent with friends or family. For the 19U boys’ rugby team, it marked 13 days before the team’s departure for the annual third season IASAS tournament, the day of a league game against UWC East, and the day two key teammates would be injured and deemed unable to travel to the quickly-approaching, highly-anticipated athletic tournament in Manila.
First, it happened to junior and first-year rugby athlete Chris Meyer.
“It was a warm up, non-tackle drill before the game. I happened to be tackled and was not ready for it at all. At the time I was tackled, all my weight was on my left leg, meaning all the muscles were flexed in my left leg. The tackler hit me right on the shin. I have never felt more pain in my entire life,” Chris recalled.
Ten minutes, a car ride to the hospital, and an MRI procedure later, Chris was told he had 12 separate tears across seven different muscles, a blood clot in his calf, and compartment syndrome in his left leg – an illness that causes muscles to die and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The longest muscle tear was 31 cm long, the blood clot was 2 cm by 8 cm, and the results were two operations – one surgery and one skin graft – and a designated six to nine months without sports.
“As soon as the doctor walked in with the results, I got shivers,” Chris said. “He said that he and his colleagues had never experienced this much damage done by something as simple as a tackle. I honestly just froze.”
But Chris wasn’t the only teammate who faced injury that day. During the same game, not thirty minutes after Chris’s collapse, another key player lost his spot on the IASAS roster due to injury.
“Robert Moritz and I were chasing this guy down,” senior Brandon Jevan Oon explained. “Robert tackled him, but I was still running full speed, because everything was happening so fast. One of the UWC guys pushed me from the back, and I tripped over him and landed shoulder first, and [my shoulder] popped out.”
Luckily, Brandon didn’t have to go to the hospital because his dislocated shoulder “popped back in by itself,” yet he’s still barred from participation in sports for six weeks and therefore is unable to attend what would’ve been his first-ever IASAS.
As a result of these two injuries, the 19U boys’ rugby team had to name two alternates for their 16-player IASAS team.
According to Coach Jackie Osborne, the number of minor injuries that occurred throughout the season – concussions, ankle tweaks, and shoulder injuries, for example – was not obviously different from any other year she’s coached the team. On the other hand, a roster change hasn’t happened this close to the IASAS departure date for the five years she’s been coaching – and for a roster change to happen twice in one game is “inopportune” and “heartbreaking,” she said.
However, she emphasized that the boys should not let the injuries change their outlook.
“This is part of the game,” Coach Osborne said. “The worst thing we can do right now is let it scare us and make us play tentatively and scared and not to our full potential, because that is sometimes where a lot of injuries could come from too, when you’re not playing as hard as you can.”
While any injury is upsetting, the proximity to the tournament makes the cases of Chris and Brandon so devastating.
“It’s not only that they’re amazing players; it’s the fact that they’ve been an essential part of our team for the longest time. They’ve been working hard all season, and to have two big losses right before IASAS has an effect on every team’s morale,” junior and IASAS teammate Atulya Venkataraman said.
And while a potential change in team chemistry is understandable, Coach Osborne stressed that the team cannot rely on just two players at IASAS.
“At the end of the day, it’s 10 people on the field, 16 people total at IASAS, and then even beyond that, it’s the 27 guys that were with us from the start of the season to the end of the season. Injuries suck, and they’re heartbreaking, but they should not make or break a team’s ability to continuously improve and play the best rugby that they can.”