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10/3/19: FRONT AND CENTER (The USA Rugby Mantra)

USA Rugby, Fatphobia, Gender and Diversity Issues, rugby ball newborn baby photo
He just HAD to include a rugby ball in our newborn shoot.

Get some rest, middle finger. We have WORK to do tomorrow!

Hi, this is Coach MK and THIS is The Morning Mantra.

*cue intro music*

Hi, my name is MK Fleming. I'm a run coach based in Denver, Colorado. But this isn't a podcast about running, exactly. Don't tell my clients, but *whispers* we're never really talking about the running. When you know a crap-tastic event is coming it helps to have a mantra to keep you centered and focused as you move through it. You don't have to be an athlete to be hashtag #coachedandloved by coach MK. And if you are here, then you are hashtag #winningatlife.

*music ends*

Today's Mantra Is: FRONT AND CENTER.

My husband loves telling people that he was my first client. I love telling people I picked him because he wasn’t a runner. This household can’t support two careers, it cannot support two runners!

Except my husband loved this other thing, too: rugby. He desperately wanted to be part of this world. In NYC I would travel to tournaments with him, and different referee coaches and mentors would tell him he had real talent, that he could ascend, that this could be a high-level hobby….if only he would lose some weight.

At that point, I’m sure he was tired of talking about his weight. I was too. There were other issues in our new marriage, but his weight seemed like the easiest to point to, the easiest to fix. We couldn’t deny other problems existed, but the other things could fall into place if he focused on getting his weight under control... Especially if he wanted to climb in rugby! Rugby became the solution, so when we moved to Houston, it became my life.

I hated rugby. My husband knew this. I hated it because the other referees didn’t look him in the eyes. They didn’t include him in conversations. They didn't always remember to invite him to post-game drinks. He was there, but he didn’t belong. But he wanted to, he pretended not to see it and I went along with it because I loved him and didn’t want to hurt him.

In 2011, my husband got into distance running. To lose weight. And he climbed- the first time he was ‘allowed’ to referee a game others deemed important, he was so proud. I hadn’t seen him THAT PROUD, ever. I started cooking. I was home all day in a still-scorching Texas winter with a newborn and I wanted to be supportive. We were married now, his life was my life and his goals were my goals.

We ran, and we entered races, and he lost weight and he got better games. We put our newborn in the backseat of an ALTIMA and drove 7 fucking hours in Texas sun to the border and stayed overnight on a beach with sand fleas and a baby and fucking MTV during Spring Break week in South Padre Island so he could referee a match in an far-flung outpost who he said was struggling to keep their union alive. He ran one marathon, then registered for two more, and would spend his frequent flier miles and my good graces on weekend trips by running races to qualify for MCM.

Rugby, fatphobia, south padre island, fat-shaming, sizeism, usa rugby
GOD THE SAND FLEAS. 5 minutes and we were COVERED.

It was a lot of effort on both of our parts, but it was worth it. By the time we moved to Denver 8 months later I was itching to run again after back-to-back pregnancies. Rugby wasn’t fun anymore- Colorado was WAY more competitive, USA Rugby, the governing body- you can compare them to USA gymnastics….you know, the guys who interface with the Olympic Committee…..paper pushers who handle complaints about things like...employees who are accused of molesting the athletes in their care, those guys are in Boulder. This is the rugby mecca for the US of A, and my husband wasn’t rising anymore. Those other problems that he’d tucked in to lose weight came back. And I came apart.

For the second time in our short marriage, I consulted divorce lawyers, weighed my options. I loved him but he didn’t love him. His body was his enemy and the battle was consuming both of us. I now had 2 kids and wasn’t running and had no patience for giving anything else to anything that wasn’t giving back to me. I hit the breaking point right before leaving for a girls' weekend, my first since we'd left New York. When I came back, I stopped trying to accommodate and started reclaiming my space and making very firm demands. My husband started spending his weekends at home, playing with the kids. He planned family things for us and date nights for the grownups. He offered to give up something big he’d wanted and had been saving for in order to pay for my RRCA certification.

I was actually happy later that summer when I realized I was pregnant with #3 and happier when I realized my hobby could turn into something bigger. As the pendulum swung towards me we found other things to talk about, other goals to get excited about. We were happy. We found balance. He was all in and so was I. But he missed rugby. And on some level...he blamed his weight.

In 2016 we would pay off our student loans. The first thing he did after that was buy me an engagement ring. The second, would be a drug his doctor had suggested for weight loss, but was pricey, insurance wouldn't cover it, and could cause strokes while you slept.

I said nothing because that’s between him and his doctor I thought, and he’s taking responsibility for his life and his body and maybe this is his self-improvement journey and why would I stand in the way of personal growth??? But I could not shake the idea that something was very, very wrong with this entire scenario. He was scared to fall asleep, thinking he would never wake up. Our kids slept through the night but we did not, I would check him multiple times to see if he was still breathing.

All this, to be 'healthier', to fit in, to rise once more, to make his hobby feel good again. To make HIM feel good again. No one, not the rugby referees not the doctors- they didn’t see the bluest eyes or the cutest smile or the best Daddy much less that NO ONE wanted to be on that pitch (that’s what they call a rugby field) more than my Alex did. They saw fat. Sloth. Irresponsibility. Lack of self-control. Visual proof of his inability to follow rules, visual prof that he could not reliably enforce them. One year later, he was still taking the dangerous drug but now I was openly begging him to quit taking it...and to quit signing up for rugby matches. I went to one and was done, I was SO MAD. Colorado rugby is nothing like Texas rugby. Texas is a hobby, it’s a family affair, it’s FUN. It’s the one thing Texas gets right and Colorado gets wrong. No one saw his work- he would show up to matches and hour early and walk over every inch of the pitch, warm up and stretch, meet the teams...I never once saw anyone else do that.

NO ONE wanted to be there more than Alex, no one ever put in more (unpaid, volunteer, unappreciated) work. That wasn't what they saw when they looked at him, though. They thought they saw what he wasn't doing.

People like Alex, who are killing themselves to be seen and taken seriously, the superfans of the sport, the people most excited to be there, deserve to be seen. They are the future of this dying sport and from what I’ve seen, the rugby superfans are women….and fat men. The World Cup is going on right now, and USA Rugby has a really big referee problem. That’s what week 1 was, referee problems; that got more coverage than the games themselves. The other big issue is women. Rugby has a diversity problem, they know it, and they have no idea how to fix it. It won’t start by telling the men to lose weight; I shudder to think what helpful cues you’re gonna give the women.

So, the mantra. This is a wake-up call for anyone who is too good for their superfans, anyone who takes that love for granted, anyone who thinks devotion and excitement is annoying. FRONT AND CENTER. Those people you don’t look at, they need to be FRONT AND CENTER. To the superfans, if you are being overlooked, say it with me: FRONT AND CENTER.

If you have been shut out of a race you participated in, denied a medal or a shirt or both, email we want to put you front and center and start making change in this sport. This weekend my husband and I are going to do a livestream telling you about two of his race experiences, and then you’ll understand why I care so much about this. Rugby needs to do better...and running does, too. Neither sport has a future if we treat our superfans like shit.

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