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Black eyes and broken bones

Rugby players don’t shy away from injuries

Alex Azzopardi smacked heads with another rugger Saturday, causing her eye to swell up and bruise. On Sunday she said she felt fine and wished she could play. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

SARANAC LAKE — The movement of a rugby ball is unpredictable. Sometimes it bounces and then shoots up like a bullet almost parallel to the ground, and other times it flies to the heavens and descends like a pillow. The sport is similarly chaotic.

This weekend, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid hosted the Can-Am Rugby Tournament. Ruggers beat the fields with their cleats and beat their bodies against each other, jostling for position closer to the enemy’s goal line. Injuries are inevitable.

Casey Evans broke her ankle in her first game on Saturday, not long after the opening whistle. Pain shot up her leg. She crumpled instantly. She left her Pennsylvania rugby team, the Phoenixville Whitehorse, and spent the next two-and-a-half hours at the Mountain Medical Urgent Care office. She said she saw a few other rugby players there as well.

On Sunday she was all smiles, however. With a boot on her left leg and two silver crutches to help her along, she attended the final day of matches at the North Country Community College athletic field. When asked whether she would continue to play after her injury heals, she said “absolutely.”

Some might not understand how one could be so badly injured in a sport and yet continue to play. But those who play rugby love every aspect of it. Injuries aren’t high up on their list of goals for a Sunday game, but getting hit comes with the sport.

Casey Evans broke her ankle on Saturday playing in the Can-Am Rugby Tournament. She said she’ll resume playing when she gets better. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

Alex Azzopardi received a black eye on Saturday morning within minutes of her first game beginning on Saturday. She said her head smacked against an opposing player’s head.

“The first thing I thought was that I got a concussion,” Azzopardi said.

But then her vision started to go in her right eye.

“People thought I was being dramatic, but the skin around my eye was swelling and I was losing vision,” she said.

Azzopardi received a black eye. The head of the player she smashed was cut open and had to get staples, according to Azzopardi.

But she isn’t done playing. She said if she could see out of her eye she would be playing today. She also said the injury didn’t drag her down and she enjoyed the evening with her team from Niagara, Ontario. When asked if she minded the injury, she said, “No, of course not. I love getting hit,” adding it was also an excuse to sit down and rest.

Azzopardi has previously suffered four concussions and torn muscles in her calf.

“I feel if I can come back from a calf injury, I can come back from anything,” she said. “It’s just a part of the game.”

The shiner got her a lot of attention. Alex Medina, who plays for the local Mountaineers team and had injured himself on Saturday as well with a scrape, said he recognized Azzopardi from the Waterhole, where he had been working as a disc jockey Saturday night. He said the black eye had looked worse on Saturday than it did on Sunday.

Azzopardi said some people told her they wished they had received a black eye to show off.

She said the toughness among those who play rugby correlates with the strength of the bonds they form.

Evans said joining her team had not been easy. The storm of the action on the field was something to get used to, and meeting the people was a culture shock. But now she says she’ll keep playing until she can’t anymore.

“Unless you’re a part of the rugby community, you just don’t understand,” Azzopardi said.

Lisa Brown of Adirondack Health, working at the medical tent just next to the field, said ruggers often wait until the end of the game to go there for treatment.

“They are persistent, and they will go through injuries that I would recommend that they not play with,” Brown said.

Brown said she had seen some players with scrapes, cuts, broken bones and even a ripped ear this past weekend.

“The biggest question we get is, ‘Is it going to get worse?'” Brown said.

Jerry Stewart and Cassitty Rose of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad said they had only transported two people to the hospital this weekend. They said most people are treated at the medical tent or go to Mountain Medical Urgent Care. It’s cheaper than taking an ambulance.

A certain type of person can play the sport, according to Medina. To be able to take the beatings, you have to be tough. Those who last become a part of the family.

Azzopardi said that size and shape don’t determine whether you have it in you to play.

“I love (rugby) because no matter who you are or what body type you are, there is a spot for you on the rugby field,” she said.