In a quaint little fishing town in the Ulster region of Ireland sits a delightful little jewelry shop that I am quite certain is out of business. Why am I so certain? Because it had the coolest things, and everything I like eventually goes away. Due to all the concussions that I have received playing what I am about to talk about, I cannot even remember the name of the store, but I can absolutely take you there because it still remains fresh in my mind. The little town is Killybegs, and it is located in County Donegal. Come to think of it, it might have been in Ballyshannon, the seed of doubt is creeping into my mind. Feck it, we'll go to both places and have some pints and go jewelry shop hunting. It will be great craic, I promise! Anyway, I was in this store looking for stooped trinkets to make my ex-fiancé stop yelling at me when I came upon a set of cufflinks that caught my eye. I actually got in an argument with the proprietor of the store, because he insisted they were rugby balls and I insisted that they looked like American footballs. He was the sort of bloke who would sell ya the eye out of your head, so he won and I purchased the rugby ball cufflinks.
Rugby is a hugely important part of my life and identity. I haven't talked about it that much on this blog because I seem to be a wee bit focused on adoption shit, but I can promise you that rugby is as influential or perhaps even more so than transracial adoption. Why is that? Because rugby is the first time in my life that I got to defy stereotypes. Stereotypes are funny things. We're coming to a point in society where we cannot acknowledge that stereotypes are based on foundations of truth. This does not mean ALL people fall into stereotypes, but let's just say that if you were a Vegas bookie, you're using the shit out of stereotypes when it comes to making unusual bets. As a youth, I was not cool in any definition of the term. I literally wasn't even cool enough to play Dungeons and Dragons. The group that played that game always seemed to quite mysterious as to where the games were being held. Yes, I was the smart one. No, I wasn't very athletic. And I definitely couldn't attract female attention if I was giving away Esprit bags filled with New Kids on the Block memorabilia. I probably hated Sixteen Candles so much because I looked at the Dongster and realized, holy crap, that is what people think of when they see me. And then I decided maybe I should look into being home schooled. Growing up Asian in the 80s wasn't the rich tapestry of fond memories that others might have had.
Rugby changed all of that. I was not naturally gifted at rugby. Do you not remember that stereotypes are based on foundations of truth? But what got me committed to sticking with it was that there was a Japanese exchange student who was nicknamed Ike who was the scrum half. And he commanded the respect of his teammates. Because he was really, really fucking good. I finally had a role model that I could actually try and emulate! I never really talked to him because he was so much better than I was. Hell, all of you were better than I was originally. I was woefully inept. However, all of the other players were incredibly encouraging and I loved the true team essence of the game. I also loved the raw brutality of hitting people. I might not have been able to catch a ball while running worth a damn, but I sure could tackle people! I used to constantly get yellow carded in soccer games because of my enthusiasm for contact of any kind, so rugby was a dream come true for me.
It took me an entire year to learn how to catch the ball while running. Most people would have quit well before that year was over. I don't think you can truly appreciate the anguish and frustration I felt failing twice a week, every week, for an entire year. I didn't hate this experience for myself. I was supposed to suck. I hated disappointing my teammates. The more encouraging they were, the worse I felt. The more beer they wanted to drink with me at socials, the more I steeled myself that I would figure this shit out. And then one day, a year later, it clicked! I could finally run at full speed and not drop the ball when it was passed to me. The growth and development after that was almost exponential and I then had twelve more amazing years of rugby doing things that defy belief. The best feeling was doing something amazing on the pitch and then seeing the look of shock and surprise that an Asian could do such things.
So are stereotypes common? Yes. Is it hard to be uncommon? You have no fucking idea how hard it is. Or hopefully you do. Hopefully you have had to overcome a perception that you just felt did not define you, even if you were solidly within that realm. Rugby shaped me into the man I am today. Someone who is not afraid to get knocked down. Someone who anticipates the worst being thought of them and yet continues regardless of the scorn and disdain. Someone who knows that achievement is almost always collaborative and winning the game isn't as important as being around the kind of people who make you love being with them, regardless of the score. I love rugby. Yes, I'm finally becoming a little proud of where I came from, but I am most definitely proud of the man I became playing this amazing game. And by amazing game, I mean 15 man rugby union. Not this pansy ass 7s shit that everyone is all agog about. That's not real rugby. I would never get 7s rugby cufflinks in a million years. I heard Asians are crap at that game, anyway.