Playing Through

The ladies of the Austin Valkyries women's rugby team will lay you out on the field and then buy you a beer an hour later

Alison Earnhart (l) and Angela Adams
Alison Earnhart (l) and Angela Adams (Photo by Thomas Hackett)

In addition to her many nicknames (e.g., T-Storm, T-Funk, T-Hole, Muscles, Brokeface Mountain), Tiffany Hall has something I totally envy: an awesome scar on her right temple, running raggedly from hairline to eyebrow. Whether I'd be willing to endure what Hall did to earn it – to let some 200-pound brute wearing metal cleats step on my face – I'm not so sure.

Strike that. I know I wouldn't.

Consider: Hall has also had both facial orbitals broken. She's broken two fingers. She's broken her right wrist. Lately, her back has been killing her. And the thing is, none of these aches and injuries occurred by happenstance. In a very real sense, Hall did all this to herself, playing flanker for the Austin Valkyries women's rugby team.

"You have to take pride in your injuries, otherwise you wouldn't do it," Hall told me during a recent friendly match with the women of Texas State. "When I got stepped on – this was at nationals two years ago in Columbia, South Carolina – I stood up holding my head, and my hands were just full of blood. It was running all down my arms. There was a huge bloodstain on the field. But I thought it was pretty cool. And when the paramedics were taking me away, I was like, 'Kick ass, bitches!'

"Maybe you shouldn't put that in there," she added.

"What? The 'bitches'?"

"Yeah."

"Seriously? I think that's cool."

I mean, seriously. The Valkyries do take pride in being a bunch of tough bitches. At the same time, they may be the least bitchy people, male or female, in the state of Texas. They see no contradiction in laying out an opponent ("It's glorious," Hall said) and buying her a beer an hour later.

"Think about it," said Hall's teammate Meredith Bagley. "You get to run around and hit things" – read: other women – "and you immediately feel like you belong to something. You're accepted. One reason is, the hits you see in rugby, they can be rough, but they don't feel hostile. It's more about an unfettered freedom, which a lot of women don't get to experience. It's not how women traditionally bond."

Chuck Palahniuk hit on this in his 1996 cult classic, Fight Club. Physical aggression, pain and suffering – they make us feel whole again. Connected. Restored. "Everything in the real world gets the volume turned down," he writes. "Nothing can piss you off." It's not about winning or losing. It's about putting yourself out there, whoever you are, and taking life on the chin.

With the Valkyries, there's really only one thing that will disqualify you from inclusion: not making it to postgame drink-ups. That sounded good to me, so after the Texas State game, I loitered around the field, hoping someone would invite me along. Then I realized it would have been presumptuous of me. Fact is, I'm not tough enough for these hard-hitting bitches.

The Austin Valkyries women's rugby club is hosting a fundraising screening of the rugby feature film Forever Strong on Thursday, Sept. 25, at the AMC Barton Creek Cinema. Showtime: 7pm. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 online at www.austinvalkyries.com or at the door. Call 968-1933 for more info.

Write Mr. Hackett at playingthrough@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Valkyries, Tiffany Hall, women's rugby, Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Meredith Bagley

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