Listening to the national anthem while standing with her teammates in Paris, France, this summer was an emotional moment for Central Ohio native Sarah Wilson.
“It’s all these different emotions. Definitely a ‘Pinch me, I’m here,’ moment,” said Wilson, 30, who played for the 2014 IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup on the U.S. Women’s Eagles national rugby team in August. “It’s almost surreal, like, ‘Did that really happen?’”
The U.S. finished 6th out of 12 teams, in a stiff tournament that saw the U.S. Women’s team in one of the toughest pools of the 2014 World Cup. The Eagles pooled with Ireland, Kazakhstan and New Zealand, the four-time and reigning champs, before moving on to the fifth-eighth-place rounds to play Australia then New Zealand—again.
“To play (New Zealand) twice in a week is tough. We had a tough tournament,” Wilson said. “But, I hope that my teammates walk away with pride. I don’t think there was one game where we didn’t play with all our hearts and play until the final whistle and play for each other.”
The comradery of rugby is something Wilson says she will miss over the next year, as she takes a break from the physically demanding sport to contemplate her future.
“It might be a permanent year or it might be an ‘I miss it and I want to play rugby again’ year,” said Wilson, currently a program specialist for Boulder County in Boulder, Colorado, near the rugby training facility. “I’m using this year to see what the next step is.”
The life of a female rugby player is a tough one, said Wilson. There’s no professional league, no paycheck, no benefits—there’s only passion, and a “do whatever it takes” attitude to drive a girl through the tough practices and sacrifices to make it to the World Cup level.
“We all live it in different ways,” said Wilson of herself and her teammates. “For those of us who want to play internationally, you figure out how to make it work. It’s not easy, but that’s what’s required.”
The most important requirement is finding a job that supports the intense training schedule.
“I had to say (to my boss), ‘This is my goal, do I have your support?’ Fortunately, my boss, and her boss, were incredibly supportive and encouraging,” Wilson said. “That said, I have teammates who didn’t have jobs like that and had bosses who were critical of their goals and made it hard for them to take time off for training and games.”
Family and friends have been another important component for Wilson as she reached the World Cup level.
“People who care about you the most, and are the best people for you, will help you find a way to (get to the next level),” Wilson said. “Cooking, giving you a place to live, helping you by giving you what you need—that’s the type of person who comes into your life and stays.”
And now, Wilson is taking time to enjoy those people and all the extra time she’s got now that training is done.
“There’s a part of me that has loved not scheduling my life to the minute. It’s such a different mindset from where it was,” said Wilson, who’s trying new ways of getting her fitness on, from Yoga to running to CrossFit. “I’m trying to find what I love. I’m hoping by the end of the year or sometime next summer, I’ll have a definite answer.”
Wilson said she may do some hiking in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, or maybe even learn to cook.
“I have an open mind,” Wilson said. “I have to figure out what I want to do. I need a break. I might need a forever break. I don’t know where Rugby’s going to go.”
Well, she knows one place where it won’t go—the Olympics in 2016.
“I’m fast in my position, but the athletes that they’re recruiting (for the Olympics 7’s team) are sprinters,” Wilson said. “They’re former track athletes or soccer players who have picked up rugby. They’re just fast. And generally a few years younger than I am. My plan is to go watch.”
One thing that will never change for Wilson is her continued support of rugby, especially girls and youth rugby.
“I’ll support it as much as I can,” Wilson said. “This is an experiment,” she said. “It’s wide open.”