For Radcliffe Rugby, the path to the team's first national championship last weekend was long, arduous, and for at least one team member, life-threatening.
Lori E. Rifkin '00 was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease during winter break, when doctors told her she would have to undergo chemotherapy this semester to fight the cancer.
As hooker, Rifkin plays an integral role in the team's offensive play. Teammate Rebecca A. "Bex" Wallison '98 recalled the team's reaction to Rifkin's diagnosis.
"[Since] we were so obsessed with rugby, our first question was, 'Is she going to be all right?,' and our second question was, `Can she still play?,'" Wallison said.
Rifkin, disregarding her doctor's advice to sit out the spring season, played with intensity and achieved her personal goal of playing at the national tournament.
"In a very real way, rugby helped to save my life," Rifkin said in a recent interview. "Going to every treatment with it in mind that I wanted to go to practice in a few days really helped see me through this."
Team members said Rifkin's struggle was also a source of collective inspiration.
"I am amazed by her ability to come out and play--she's still the same Lori," said Emily C. Yee '98, an All-American four-year veteran of the team.
Wallison, also an All-American who has played with the team since she was a first-year, said the duties of the hooker position made Rifkin's play more impressive.
"You go out on the field to see her ramming her head into other people's heads [despite her hair loss due to chemotherapy]; running around the field after she's been fed chemicals to kill the cancer," Wallison said. "I sort of think of Lori as this higher being."
Wallison added that achievements like Rifkin's stem from the entire squad's love of the game.
"It's another example, albeit an impressive example, of what Radcliffe Rugby means to the team," she said.
All players interviewed acknowledged the special intimacy which exists among team members. M. Zelime Ward '98 said players have no trouble sharing experiences in the locker room as well as on the field.
"I've rowed varsity crew, played sports in high school, but this is the most open and really bonded team I've been on," Ward said. "We're open to talking about our beliefs and values."
Ward added that "some athletes have problems on other sports being accepted--problems with the coach or about race or sexuality," but she did not experience these challenges to forging common bonds as a member of the Radcliffe Rugby team. "I feel very comfortable there," she said.
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