Her Sport Almost Killed Her, But That Won’t Stop Her

Berkeley rugby player won’t let fear get in the way of playing the game and working to expand its reach

 Ceara Lafferty walks off the rugby field at Estuary Park in Alameda after practice ended on June 12. (Photo: Elena Mateus)

Ceara Lafferty walks off the rugby field at Estuary Park in Alameda after practice ended on June 12. (Photo: Elena Mateus)

Ceara Lafferty was lying down on a cot at the Highland Hospital in Oakland with a thick plastic tube sticking out of her nose and another shooting out of her stomach when her family came to visit her. They came and asked her the question that no athlete wants to hear: “Are you going to keep playing?”  For the 6’0 rugby player, the answer was yes, even when her sport nearly killed her.

Lafferty went to the emergency room on April 21 after a kick to the stomach during a game punctured her intestine. She was rushed into emergency surgery to save her life after bile and stomach acid began dissolving her internal organs. Despite the injury, Lafferty, who also works for USA rugby, is expected to make a full recovery and has decided to keep playing competitively and keep expanding the sport that is part of her identity.

“My family was understandably upset when I didn’t quit, but rugby is a huge part of my story,” she said, “How could I just leave it behind now after one thing happened?”

Lafferty was playing for the Berkeley All Blues in the Northern California Women’s Club Division II Finals when she thought she just got the wind knocked out of her after a tackle. But when the captain of the team did not immediately get up after making the tackle from behind, coach Evan Hoese took her off the field. “She is our captain and a powerhouse. She always gets back up, so when she didn’t, I took it seriously,” she said.

It was not until later that evening during the team social at a local bar that Lafferty realized she needed to go to the emergency room. “I ate something and started feeling an escalating pain,” she said, “As the night progressed I could not walk anymore because of it.”

Her girlfriend rushed her to the Alta Bates emergency room in Berkeley where she was told she had a laceration in her liver and was fine, but needed to be observed at Highland Hospital. Once there, the radiologist looked at her CT scan and saw fluid in the abdomen. “The doctor said I must have a hole in my bowels,” she said, “Then they told me I needed emergency surgery ASAP.”

Lafferty’s final diagnosis was a laceration in her liver and gastrointestinal perforation in the duodenum of her intestine. Even with maximum treatment, the risk of death for gastrointestinal perforation can be as high as 50 percent, according to a 2008 study by The Medical Clinics of North America.

Though the surgery was successful and Lafferty was released after 7 days in the hospital, she  was left with more questions than answers. “I could have died from this, so it made me question everything I had done in my life,” she said, “Was I okay with everything I was doing?”

Those close to Lafferty, like teammate Alyssa Collins, knew that playing rugby was something she would always continue doing. “I was not surprised at all when she came back to practice,” Collins said, “She is back on the pitch already and it is absolutely representative of how dedicated and passionate she is.”

During her first practice back on June 12, Lafferty was able to jog but not much else. But that didn’t stop her from high-fiving her teammates during sprints or pulling aside a player to explain how shifting the ball creates space. “She is one of the most selfless players I have ever seen. She puts everybody’s well being above her own,” said coach Hoese.

For Lafferty, rugby is something that runs deeper than an 80-minute game: “There is an unbeatable feeling you get when you run through 3 people trying to tackle you at full speed, sure,” she said, “But it’s about more than that, it’s about the community that has empowered me to be my true self.”

Lafferty started playing rugby when she was a freshman at Cal in 2013. She knew she wanted to play a team sport and after her first practice with the Cal Women’s Rugby team, she never looked back. “The team understood me and gave me the strength to come out as queer,” she said, “Everyone is unapologetically themselves and they validated my existence.”

Now, since graduating, Lafferty has dedicated her time to developing youth rugby on behalf of USA Rugby. In her role as the Impact Beyond program coordinator, she provides free flag rugby curriculum to schools in the Bay Area as part of the World Cup effort to assess the host area’s needs. By the time the World Cup kicks off in San Francisco this July, Impact Beyond will have brought rugby to 75 schools and 22,500 kids across the bay area, according to the USA Rugby site. “This sport has given me so much,” she said, “My hope is that rugby can do the same for others, especially young girls, who deserve to feel strong and empowered.”

Lafferty is expected to begin full contact practices in October and will continue teaching rugby curriculum ahead of the World Cup from July 20-22 in San Francisco. She said, “I decided that I wasn’t going to let the fear of something happening keep me from doing what I love."

CPC Featured Player: Sally Shatford

Full Name (plus any rugby nickname/s): Sally Shatford

Hometown: Pasadena, CA

Position(s) played: 6, 11, 13, etc.

All Blues since: 2017

Best advice you have ever received about playing rugby: “The worst decision you can make is no decision”

 Sally breaking through the line vs. SFGG during the most recent D2 season.

Sally breaking through the line vs. SFGG during the most recent D2 season.

       Sally first started playing rugby sophomore year of college at Colorado College. She had some friends that had already been playing who said she could give it a try. She used to play soccer, and missed playing a sport, so she came out to a practice and found that she loved it. After graduating, some of the same rugby friends who played at CC and also later played with the All Blues—Sydney P, Denali G and Monika R—encouraged her to come play for our team, and in the summer of 2017 Sally first donned our blue and gold jersey.  

Sally during her first season playing with the All Blues.

       When asked what her most memorable time was with the All Blues thus far, Sally said that the most recent D2 finals stuck with her. According to Sally, “it was the best game we played all season and made me feel and recognize all the progress the team had made in a few months.” She also especially credited the leadership team with her own personal rugby growth during that season. She said that she’s “never been on a team where everybody is invested in developing everybody else! It's a really nice atmosphere. I am not afraid to ask questions or make mistakes.” She appreciated that leadership explained not just what to do, but also the how and why. According to Sally the focus was “on becoming better at reading the field instead of [solely learning] very specific plays.” This worked out well for her, since besides improving her defensive skills, developing her field vision was her other goal.  

 Sally catches a runaway Life West fullback.

Sally catches a runaway Life West fullback.

 The 2018 D2 team at the end of season finals.

The 2018 D2 team at the end of season finals.

       Outside of rugby, Sally’s passions are cooking and making things. She is currently trying to improve her wood working skills, which she did a lot with her dad growing up. She also just recently earned her Master's in Geography at SFSU, successfully defending her thesis on mapping areas of income-based segregation and affordable housing locations in San Francisco. Congratulations Sally!

CPC Featured Player: Florence Gomez

Full Name (plus any rugby nickname/s): Florence Gomez (Too many nicknames to name)

Hometown: Yigo, Guam
Position(s) played: Center, Back Three

  Flo on the attack in a WPL match last season versus ORSU.  Photo modified from Mark Gordon Murray

Flo on the attack in a WPL match last season versus ORSU.  Photo modified from Mark Gordon Murray

All Blues: When and how did you first start playing rugby? What got you into it?

Florence: I was a late bloomer. I just started playing about four years ago, when I reached my dirty thirties. I was approached while out with my roommate by a rugger, not knowing that my roommate had played in college. She convinced me to check out one practice and I instantly fell in love.

flo4.jpg

AB: Did you play any sports prior to rugby?

F: I’ve been playing sports since the age of four. My first sport was track, I’ve tried to play just about every sport they offered in schools but basketball and fast pitch softball where the only ones I stuck with. I ended up playing for a traveling softball team in the Navy after high school. Now rugby is the only sport I play.

  Cottontown 7s Champions! Photo courtesy of Florence Gomez

Cottontown 7s Champions! Photo courtesy of Florence Gomez

AB: Do you have a philosophy/mindset when you practice and play rugby? 

F: When I play I just think about having fun, when you stop having fun you lose the love for playing.
 


AB: How did you first find out about the All Blues? What made you come out here and join us?

F: The All Blues are known nationwide; I’ve always heard good things about this team. I wasn’t sure what team I was going to play with when I moved to Berkeley. I decided to check out each team and choose from there but after one practice with the ABs I knew this is where I wanted to be. I loved the environment and the team was extremely welcoming.
 

  Flo with some fellow All Blues at an after match social in Santa Rosa. Photo credit: Victoria Abrenica

Flo with some fellow All Blues at an after match social in Santa Rosa. Photo credit: Victoria Abrenica

AB: Is there a particular player and/or coach that has influenced your development as a player? In what way(s) did they help you?

F: My first vet Kelly Sager is probably the most influential person. My first year playing we didn’t have a coach and I was the only rookie. She took me under her wing and taught me the game--mostly the rules and how to use them to my advantage.

  Flo with her vet, Kelly Sager, at the Chattanooga Pitch A Tent 7s Tournament. Photo courtesy of Florence Gomez

Flo with her vet, Kelly Sager, at the Chattanooga Pitch A Tent 7s Tournament. Photo courtesy of Florence Gomez


AB: What is the best advice you have ever received about playing rugby?

F: The best advice I’ve ever received is that I have more time than I think.
 

AB: Any other fun facts about yourself you’d like to share with us?

F: I am a sock enthusiast, I own a lot of socks lol.

CPC Featured Player Q&A: Ceara Lafferty

Full Name (plus any rugby nickname(s)): Ceara “8Foot” Lafferty

Hometown: Rome, Italy
Position(s) played: Lock, 8

All Blues since: 7s since 2016, 15s since this season

  8Foot fending off an opponent for Cal. Photo courtesy of Ceara Lafferty

8Foot fending off an opponent for Cal. Photo courtesy of Ceara Lafferty

All Blues: When and how did you first start playing rugby?  What got you into it?

8Foot: I’ve been playing team sports for most of my life and have loved every minute of it, so when I decided that I wanted to go to Cal, my dad had a feeling I would want to continue pursuing that passion. He discovered that Cal had a club rugby team and, to be honest, I was really skeptical of it when he first mentioned it. When I was recruited by a rugby player during my first week as a freshman, my skepticism turned into curiosity and I decided to dive in headfirst to a rugby practice. I was brought there by a hunch and stayed because of the strength and empowerment I feel every time I’m on the pitch, and because of the open-minded people that make up the rugby community.

  8Foot and the Cal Babies. Photo courtesy of Ceara Lafferty

8Foot and the Cal Babies. Photo courtesy of Ceara Lafferty

AB: Did you play any sports prior to rugby?

8’: I played varsity basketball, soccer, and volleyball all throughout high school. I thought I would be dedicated to being a baller forever, but I found rugby and never looked back.

 

AB: How did you first find out about the All Blues? What made you come out here and join us?

8’: I found out through the Cal to All Blues pipeline! It’s a real thing.

 Rugby strong! A skills break led to some shenanigans from the forwards. Photo modified from the All Blues Rugby Instagram (@allbluesrugby)

Rugby strong! A skills break led to some shenanigans from the forwards. Photo modified from the All Blues Rugby Instagram (@allbluesrugby)

AB: What’s your most memorable time thus far with the All Blues?

8’: I’m sure this sounds hella cheesy, but honestly, every moment spent with the All Blues is better than the last. This team has made me feel so welcomed and loved and valued and it means so much coming from a group of such amazing and talented individuals. [When we first had that double header this season], I played in both the D2 game against the Amazons and the WPL game against Life West and I truly did not know if I was going to make it through the last 10 minutes of the WPL game. My motivation came from the communication and positive attitudes of the people playing next to me, telling me that I could push through. I was able to put work in on the pitch until the final whistle because my teammates believed in me.

  8Foot on the attack at a game vs. Santa Rosa.  Photo: Kyra Trowbridge

8Foot on the attack at a game vs. Santa Rosa.  Photo: Kyra Trowbridge

AB: What is the best advice you have ever received about playing rugby?

8’: There are two pieces of advice that I always carry with me on the pitch. The first comes from a fellow All Blue, friend, and rugby philosopher, Frieda Fetuu: always stay humble. The second piece of advice was said to me by Mari Triplett, an All Blue and former coach of mine. When she was coaching at Cal, she would always say, “Saw your leg off!” That was her way of telling us to do WHATEVER it takes to do what needs to be done. Saw your leg off for the ball, for the scrum, and most importantly, for your teammates. I value both of these pieces of wisdom not only because they came from women I respect immensely, but because they remind me that I play not only for my teammates, but for all of the women who have come before me and will come after me.

  Seriously, that fend though! Photo courtesy of Ceara Lafferty

Seriously, that fend though! Photo courtesy of Ceara Lafferty

AB: What skills are you working on/would like to work on right now?

8’: I’m really working on trying to be a vocal leader. The fact that so many of the All Blues are great leaders has made that a lot easier.

 

AB: What is your favorite non-rugby activity? Do you have any passions besides rugby?

8’: It kind of seems like my whole life revolves around rugby sometimes, but I swear I enjoy doing other things too. I’m super passionate about music. I love to sing, play guitar, go to concerts, and discover new music. I also am trying to get into photography! I also adore food: cooking it, learning about it, watching shows about it, and, most of all, eating it. I’m into exploring too, especially in new cities and the outdoors. 

 

AB: Any other fun facts about yourself you’d like to share with us?

8’: I lived in Rome, Italy for 5 years. That’s where I went to high school and it’s the longest I stayed in one place while growing up. Also, if you didn’t know already, I’m 8 feet tall.