Scrum for a Cure

Williams ruggers (in white jerseys) will attempt a 24-hour match against Keene State to raise money for breast and colorectal cancer research.

Williams ruggers (in white jerseys) will attempt a 24-hour match against Keene
State to raise money for breast and colorectal cancer research.

By Jessica Herzer ’11

Eighty minutes of rugby is hard enough. Believe me, I know from personal experience. But this spring, Williams’ women ruggers will truly push their mental and physical limits when they attempt to play rugby for 24 hours straight. That’s right, a match that lasts an entire solar day. As part of a fundraising event to support breast and colorectal cancer research, the Williams and Keene State College teams will tackle each other for hours upon hours in an effort to play the longest women’s rugby match ever, right here in Williamstown.

Inspired by some rugby alums’ current fights against breast and colorectal cancer, Coach Gina Coleman ’90 concluded that there was “no better way to honor their courage than to raise awareness and funding for these causes.” While brainstorming ideas, Coleman was drawn to the March of Dimes walkathon model, in which sponsors pledge a certain amount of money for every incremental measure reached—be it miles, hours or minutes. Since the goal is to play longer in order to increase total pledge results and raise more money, and with rugby being a sport of such epic athletic endurance, why not make history in the process? Coleman contacted Guinness World Records to see if they might be interested in covering the event.

“I thought it was a shot in the dark,” Coleman says, “but I submitted the online form to attempt the longest-running women’s rugby match.” One month later, she received notice that Guinness would grant the team the opportunity to try. With no official record on the books, the players need to reach 24 hours of continuous play for Guinness to document the feat.

With every second of rucking, mauling and scoring tries, the Williams and Keene teams will collectively personify a relentless fight against breast and colorectal cancer. Guinness recognition is just the icing on the cake, as it increases publicity and ultimately maximizes the efforts to raise money for both the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Manhattan Surgical Associates Gastrointestinal Surgery Research Foundation.

To prepare for the match, Williams’ rugby team is in the midst of determined physical training. Captains Leah Lansdowne ’11 and Carol Tsoi ’11 have designed cardio and weight-lifting workouts for the team as well as a timeline of specific fitness goals. The ruggers trek to the gym every day in pairs or groups with a common vision in the backfield: 24 hours of crushing cancer. “I think what it is going to come down to … is mental preparation,” Lansdowne says. “Rugby is all about supporting your teammates. This match will be the ultimate test of that support.”

Up in New Hampshire, Keene is rallying the troops as well. Rugby love has connected Williams and Keene for some time, and the upcoming match offers the two teams an invaluable chance to express it. “We play Keene State every spring season,” Coleman says, “and [due to] our sisterly relationship with them, we were certain they would be more than agreeable to champion these causes with us.”

The match begins at 8 a.m. April 23 on Cole Field, and the teams have every intention of playing until 8 a.m. April 24. There will be 22 players per team, with 15 on the pitch and seven substitutes on the sidelines. To assist the players, food, cots and Porta-Potties will mark the sidelines as well. It is sure to be a rollicking time packed with tight competition, team camaraderie, calorie-burning, sweaty scrums, intense laughter and maybe, just maybe, a proudly earned bruise or two. I do know one thing for sure. With all my rugby buddies, it will be swell.

Jessica Herzer ’11 is pursuing a sociology major with a concentration in leadership studies. She began playing rugby her freshman year. She’s also a DJ at WCFM, works at the student-run Goodrich Coffee Bar and is training her vocal chords for 24 hours of cheering for the women’s rugby team during Scrum for a Cure. For more information about the event, contact Leah Lansdowne ’11 at 541.610.8545 or [email protected].