Two rugby players were rewarded for their work ethic and tireless efforts both on the pitch and off as recipients of the 2012 Marine Athletes of the Year awards last month in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton.
First Lieutenant Elliott A. Joses and Captain Shaina M. Turley – Women’s Eagle – received nominations from the athletic director and chain of command at their local installations.
Turley, who captained the Eagles at the 2013 IRB Women’s Nations Cup in Colorado this summer, has had a more visible rugby career due to her time with the national team. She is currently with the Women’s Eagles Sevens at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
A CH-46E pilot for Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164, Turley said the support she has received from fellow servicemen and servicewomen has been overwhelming.
“I am honored to be recognized and humbled by the well-wishes I have received from my brothers and sisters in arms,” she said.
“This award, especially the fact that it went to two rugby players, means that the Marine Corps is enthusiastic about Marine athletes and particularly warfighters who spend their free time developing their talents. Personally, I’m just very proud to represent all of the great athletes that the Corps has competing around the world.”
“Is that the sport with the sticks?” is a common question asked when Turley says she plays rugby. A physical sport itself, lacrosse is arguably in the same realm in terms of popularity in the United States. Rugby is, however, relatively popular amongst those in the armed forces, but finding playing time can be a challenge.
“There are club teams in the local area, but playing for them and managing the military schedule can be difficult,” Turley said. “There is a weekly touch game on base and it’s great to run into familiar ruggers from around Camp Pendleton. In the end, if you are in the military, you tend to have to arrange whatever practice can fit in at any given time. This means one week you’re working on technical scrums with a premier league rugby club and the next you’re teaching touch rugby to a bunch of helicopter mechanics to get a little skill session in.
“As long as you’re training and setting appropriate goals, it all works out.”
Turley is among Women’s Eagles Head Coach Pete Steinberg’s initial 55-player pool for the upcoming IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014, to be held in France next August. She scored a try in the Eagles’ third-place match against South Africa at Nations Cup. She said she is fortunate to have found enough time to play for the national team during her time in the Marine Corps, whereas a number of athletes serving do not get the opportunity.
“Many times the best athletes are forward deployed and thus don’t have the ability to regularly compete at domestic or international competitions for their sport,” Turley said. “I think every Marine athlete has anywhere from one to four years of time out of competition when part of a training or deploying unit. It’s very motivating to know that there are so many Marines training who may not even get to compete, but they do it, anyway. It’s really humbling.”
Another athlete who has found passion in rugby, Joses, has appreciated the longevity the game has had within the Marine Corps.
“The intense, physical nature of the sport appeals to a lot of Marines,” he said. “And as a result, the Marine Corps has a long tradition of rugby.”
Joses, currently assigned to the replacement air crew at Marine Helicopter Light Attack Training Squadron 303, began his rugby career at the United State Naval Academy and was selected to play sevens during his senior year, though he rued not getting the opportunity to pick up the sport at the high school level.
“Watching teams like the All Blacks, Wallabies and Eagles as a kid, I was instantly drawn to the sport for its sheer physicality,” he said. “Rugby seemed raw, intense and challenging and ended up being a natural fit when I got into college. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the complexity and finesse of the sport and my enjoyment in playing as only grown.”
A short training stint with the Men’s Eagles Sevens this past January followed his work with the US Combined Services and All-Marine Rugby teams.
“I was incredibly honored by the opportunity to work with the other players, trainers and coaches,” Joses said. “My exposure to the other athletes there was both inspiring and humbling. Their hard work, dedication and athleticism was truly amazing and the team atmosphere was unparalleled.
“The experience not only expanded my understanding of the game but gave me the opportunity to play some great rugby with some awesome guys.”
Joses and Turley could be up for the 2013 incarnation of the award next year, but that is not what is in the crosshairs of these two Marines.
“It is a nomination-based award, so I’m just going to be the best Marine and rugby player I can be and let the chips fall where they may,” Turley said.
“I do still try to play rugby as much as I can and I hope to continue playing for as long as possible,” Joses said. “If I am someday able to train or play with the Eagles again, I would jump at the opportunity, but right now the Marine Corps is my team and I need to make sure that I am fully prepared to fill the role they have for me.”