"Until you pass away’
BRECKENRIDGE – Rugby is as rough a sport as there is. But it’s also a gentleman’s game. Maybe that’s the secret to the longevity of some of its players.
During Saturday’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the 20 teams paused for a mid-day exhibition that featured 40- and- 50- somethings beating on each other on the snowy pitch. It was the second time the tournament has showcased the “old boys,” as they are called, a large network of which exists in Colorado.
“It’s a group of guys who get together wherever there’s a tournament,” said 47-year-old Bill Gregg, a Denver resident who taught elementary school in Breckenridge in the early 1980s and was a member of the Blue Goose Rugby Club. “A lot of us have been playing against each other for 20, 30 years now”
There have been injuries over the years. Breckenridge’s own Peter Shafroth, 48, had two hip-replacement surgeries that, he says, added years to his rugby career.
“Now that I’m feeling healthy again, I’d like to play a little more,” he said. “I hadn’t played for 10 years, so (I’ve) really gotten a second wind.”
Tim Mandigo, 44, plays on a leg that was shattered on a rugby field and repaired with cadaver parts, bolts and plates.
Still, the fire burns.
“You still get to hit people. It’s great,” Mandigo said. “You can’t go out there and just run around and try to fake it. If you don’t go out there with some aggressiveness, you’ll be done.”
Saturday’s game didn’t lack hard hitting or intensity, but it was noticeably slower than the rest of the tournament. It’s rugby, but it’s a kinder, gentler version. The men have grown too old for some of the extra-curriculars that occasionally take place at the bottom of a scrum.
“You’re a lot slower, but the heart is still there,” Shafroth said. “You’re as competitive, but not to the extent that you might be in your younger years, when there might be punches and stuff going on. That’s the nice part about old boys – that pretty much doesn’t happen.”
So how long can one play the sport of rugby?
“Until you pass away,” Gregg said very seriously. “When I started playing about 30 years ago, I read a newspaper article about a guy who scored a try when he was 85. And I think that’s my goal as well as a lot of the rest of the teams’ goals out here.”
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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