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Rugby Becomes Call's Calling

Tuesday Sep 22, 2009 in Women Clubs

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(Top and bottom photo by Carla Frederick.)

By Jackie Finlan

Since when is a sabbatical a boon to your rugby game? When you’ve spent the last two years training with the USA Bobsledding team.

That’s how it worked out for Tracy Call. Call returned to rugby this fall after a two-year hiatus, but instead of rejoining her DII club, Minneapolis Menagerie, she inquired into Women’s Premier League team Minnesota Valkyries. After two weeks of practice, she was playing wing against Berkeley, and last week she scored two tries against ORSU.

Call’s rugby story begins a lot like that of many players: a college roommate coaxed her to practice, where she immediately fell in love with the sport. After graduating Iowa State University, she returned home and booted up with the Menagerie.

“The Menagerie was very competitive when I first joined,” Call remembered. “We went to DII Nationals the first couple of years, but at some point, it turned social. I continued to play because it was my network of friends.”

In 2007, she separated her shoulder and had to take a break from rugby. In the interim, she found a bobsled camp in Lake Placid, NY, that was open to the public. “I just thought it would be cool to ride in a bobsled,” Call said. “I had no aspirations toward the national team or the Olympics.”

That is, until recruiters saw some real potential in the 5’4”, (then) 150 lb athlete. They challenged her to return to the next camp 15 lbs heavier and running the 30-meter dash .2 seconds faster. Those numbers would make her a strong contender to be a successful Pusher.

“I’d never power lifted before,” said Call. “I’d only trained for rugby, which is completely different. It’s the difference between a five-second sprint and 80 minutes of cardio.”

Nevertheless, Call met the recruiters’ standards and was invited to the 2008 Push Championship (the push championships are simulated on a turf track. In regular competition, the pusher joins the driver, both of whom must initiate what will become a 70-80 mph race in a 600-700 lb. sled, which begins from a standstill atop an ice track). Her performance warranted an invite to the USA Team Trials, and subsequently, she made the USA Bobsledding team.

During that first year, she worked her way up the ranks and found her reward in April 2009, when she and driver Bree Schaaf nabbed the gold medal in the final America’s Cup series race of the season in Lake Placid. (see photo).

It was looking good for Call as the 2010 Olympic year cycle launched (2010 Winter Games are in Vancouver next February), and she trained hard all summer.

“But then my life changed,” Call said. She and her partner were notified that after three years of waiting, their adoption application was approved and they would be welcoming baby boy Lincoln into their lives.

Call continued on her path toward qualifying for the Olympic team – she made it through the first round of trials, finished third at the Push Championships in mid-August, and was poised to join the World Cup team in Calgary.

But as the new mother looked down the road, the increased time commitments during the Olympic year seemed too much. “I took a long, hard look at the schedule,” Call said, “and heard rumors that we wouldn’t be able to come home over Christmas, which would mean six months away from home. I didn’t think I could be away from Lincoln that long.”

And like that, Call withdrew from the Olympic pool. “I was depressed at first when I decided not to go back [to bobsledding],” Call confessed. “It was my identity for two years.”

But she has recovered quickly.

In the Valkyries she found a devotion and competitiveness akin to her bobsledding regimen – which is why she couldn’t return to the Menagerie. “Once you experience that type of competition and surround yourself with national caliber athletes, you can’t go back to a club sport.”

Valkyries coach Barb Fugate was familiar with Call and encouraged her to give the team a try. Fugate was obviously impressed, or Call wouldn’t have played in the majority of the Valkyries’ first WPL game against Berkeley.

She chased down a number of would-be scorers on the wing (at right, tracking Eagle wing Vix Folayan). And though the Minneapolis team lost 38-0 to the visitors, she solidified her starting position out wide in the subsequent match against ORSU, which the Valks won 33-12.

“Consider what she’s been training for,” Fugate said, “Explosive power and acceleration over a short distance. Tracy’s ability to recruit power and accelerate to top speed in a few steps is very impressive.”

Call has already dropped ten pounds and hasn’t stumbled upon that aerobic roadblock she was anticipating.

“She’s still learning to support attacking lines of the midfielders,” Fugate said of Call’s development, “and how to find a place to help our attack in open play. A lot of that has to do with getting to know people and having an excellent work ethic, which Tracy has.”

Call’s up for the challenge. “After being on a national team and at the bottom of the totem poll, I’d rather be the worst of the best than the best of the worst,” the 32-year-old said. “I wasn’t concerned about being the best rugby player out there; I wanted to surround myself with talented athletes.”

But now that’s she’s starting to find her stride, “I want to the best of the best,” she betrayed with a laugh.

As Call’s rugby career finds a second genesis, she wanted to make one thing clear. “Rugby isn’t an afterthought or a concession for not bobsledding,” she insisted. “Rugby really is where my heart is. It would have been amazing to compete this year on the USA Bobsled team, especially in an Olympic year, but I’ve never been happier and it’s because of the competitiveness and athleticism that I’m surrounded by.”

Call hopes to get a couple more bobsledding races in before the Olympics, as she’s still eligible and the rugby season leaves some room at the end of the year for competition. That said, she calls rugby her new career, and is excited that she’s in better in shape now than she was in her 20s.

“I couldn’t be happier.”


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