True Tough Guys

Forty-five active members of the Miami Rugby Club, including priests, lawyers, firefighters, teachers, and ambassadors, train hard, play hard, and always greet each other with an upbeat "Cheers!" These dedicated members meet three times a week during regular season, which runs from the end of August until May, to sharpen their skills in practices and to wipe out the competition in games.

The Miami Rugby Club was established in 1969 and competed early on against members of the British navy who settled here after being stationed in Florida during World War II. In the past five years, club membership has doubled. Although players hold a variety of day jobs, all have the same goal in mind when it comes to rugby: winning.

"The mentality is like war. You don't give up," says Doug Neary, age 36, an orthopedic consultant for trauma surgery from Fort Lauderdale to Key West and a team member for five years. "If you start the competition, you are there for the duration."

The 25 regular-season Saturday games last three hours. Two teams of fifteen players each try to annihilate each other in two games of 40-minute halves. As part of the club's ritual, after the final whistle, the host team treats the visitors to a hearty dinner.

Neary says the rugby club is more than just a hobby for team members; he claims it's a way of life. In fact, 29-year-old Pat O'Donnell, an environmental scientist, says rugby is the other half of his life. For the past four years O'Donnell, who lives in Naples, has driven two hours each way to attend practices, which run from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, as well as to games every week. "I've never heard of anyone driving farther than I do to play on any team anywhere," exclaims O'Donnell. "It's part of me. It's something I'll do the rest of my life."

Neary contends that such commitment and devotion are the keys to success. In addition to playing in all the Saturday games, members work out by stair-climbing, biking, and weightlifting. All the work has paid off: The Miami Rugby Club is the number-one team in the southern region, meaning they have triumphed over the top teams in Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida.

"Rugby is for people who enjoy competition and hard work," says club president Mark Tompkins. "It's for people who live and die for it. And when it's over, you've enjoyed the company of the people you competed with. Every weekend is a party."

-- Cori Jancko

The Miami Rugby Club practices every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at SW 185th Street and Franjo Road. Active members pay $250 yearly dues. Call 305-667-0422.