Spotlight: Laura Miller

Laura Miller recently returned from the Women’s National Team (WNT) Fall Tour to Italy and France. Miller, 24, started playing with the Furies in 2010 while still a junior at St Mary’s College of Maryland. She was a two-time All American and spent a season in London playing for the Saracens. Miller earned her third international cap on the Fall 2012 Tour, having previously played in the 2011 Nations Cup. The WNT traveled first to Italy, then to France, playing test matches in Orleans and at the Stade de France in Paris. Hear what Laura Miller has to say about being on tour and playing for the USA.

At the Stade de France
At the Stade de France

Q: Like all women playing for the USA, you have put in an extraordinary amount of work to earn your spot on the team. What has been the biggest challenge for you?

Playing rugby is an incredible emotional commitment. When you are committed to a team you have to love them and believe in a common goal to be able to perform at your best. It is fairly common for me to have to compete in back to back events. To have to to commit to one team, one goal, one philosophy, and then have to do it all over with a new team a few days later is incredibly challenging. Having to flip flop like this is a pretty common theme for me; its not always a new team I’m playing with- sometimes its a try out, or a training camp- but its a different group of people with different goals and philosophies. No matter, you need to believe in them and give the everything you have because they believe in you.

Q: The WNT is comprised of an impressive collection of women ruggers, and the Furies boast a few former Eagles as well. Who is your biggest inspiration in the sport of rugby? Who would you say is your role model in women’s rugby?

I remember my first Ruggerfest in college, before I was a Fury, watching the Olde Girls play. I said out loud to my teammates “I can’t wait to be that old!” and they all laughed at me- but I meant it. They were the best rugby players I had seen up until that point and I knew the only reason they were better than me was because they were more experienced and smarter…so I decided to make them my friends.

On the National Team we always have a jersey ceremony to present the US jersey to each player before every match. Before our final match in Paris, Luke Gross- our forwards coach- talked about what the jersey meant to him when he was a player. He talked about the incredible weight that the jersey came with and the huge shoes he had to fill from those who came before him. When America’s most-capped Eagle tells you the jersey is heavy, you listen.

We all understood what he was talking about because we have all grown up, to some degree, idolizing the people who came before us and working so that we could have the opportunity to carry that weight. There are so many people who I look up to, I believe I am incredibly fortunate to have had so many good examples set for me.

It has been so important to me to have someone who has not only been a  role model, but who has made sure I knew that she believed I was capable. When you are good at rugby you get a lot of attention and positive reinforcement, but you never believe your own hype, you never take it to heart. Not until someone who has already done it tells you are capable. It’s not just about having someone who sets an example, it’s about having someone who believes as much in you as you do.

Any Fury who’s paying attention knows that I am talking about Dre. A very large reason for my success has been that not only do I have people in my corner who I can only rely on, but that I know they are watching and are invested in my success. In fact all of those Olde Girls who I idolized when I was 20 are still role models for me. Dre Khoury, Nancy Fitz, Krista McFarren, and Sue Parker are all retired Eagles who have come into my life and pushed me to be better. Now when I wear the US jersey it is extremely heavy.

Q: Touring Italy and France with the Eagles is a pretty fantastic opportunity. While you were on tour, what was it that left you the most awe-inspired, or made the experience seem real?

We were really fortunate on this tour that we were able to see a lot of the sights in every city we visited. We did a walking tour of Rome, drove the Champs Elysees at night, and saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph lit up. We played rugby in the Stade de France which is the 80,000 seat stadium where the 2014 Women’s World Cup final will be held. Another highlight was dinner with the Samoan and French Men’s National Teams, many of which played in the world cup final last year.

For me personally, there were two moments on tour that I will always remember. The first was being able to play international women’s rugby in the city where Joan of Arc was born.This brought everything home. When I was a kid I had to do a project on a saint in school. My teacher took me aside and suggested I do my report on Joan of Arc. It was the first time I was able to really relate to and aspire to be like a person that I read about. Being in that stadium was a great reminder of where I came from and all the teachers, coaches, and mentors who helped me along the way.

The second moment was a conversation I had after tour was over. I stayed in Paris for a few days post tour. I was in a hostel and made friends with some Kiwis  and one French man named Franc (yes, he pronounced it  Fr-u-nk, just like the guy in “Father of the Bride”). We had a conversation about our respective travels and I brought up my reluctance to travel to Normandy because of limited time and money. Franc said to me, “You must go because you are American. You must go because you have to see it. You didn’t have to come, but you came anyway and because of you we are free. Because of you we speak French and not German.”

Hearing such incredible gratitude for something that happened three generations ago, something that in my mind had nothing to do with me, was a extremely moving. Franc believed it was critical for me as an American to see what our country had done for another, and he was right.

Q: Describe a typical day on tour.

We have several different kinds of days on tour;  training days, travel days, game days, and recovery days. No matter what we are doing we are always busy. We normally need to be at breakfast by 7 and then the day is a string of training sessions, meetings, travel, and meals. Each day is a little different but generally we don’t stop moving until at least 9 every night. There is always something to do, some work to be done.

Q: You’ve worn the USA jersey for a test match. Women’s Rugby World Cup is around the corner in 2014. What’s next for you?

I’m hoping to spend the spring training in Colorado. My plan is to leave in March and spend some time living, working, and training at Lisa Rosen’s ranch. I don’t know yet if I will be playing much rugby while I’m there but I hope to make a decision about whether or not to move to Denver permanently while on the ranch.

Q: Rugby is exploding in the US as a youth sport, including for girls. What advice would you give to young female ruggers?

If a young person has aspirations to play international rugby I would tell them two things:

#1) Play as much rugby as possibly. There is no substitute for experience in this sport. Try out for every all-star team (even if you think you won’t make it), play 7’s in the summer, play touch, go to every clinic, and pick up as many games as you can. You will meet cool people and make friends but more importantly you will gain experience playing in all kinds of situations and environments.

#2) Find- and hold on to- a rugby community that supports your goals and is committed to the same goals that you have. You can not and will not go anywhere in rugby without a support system. Rugby is a team sport on and off the field, you need people who know what they’re talking about and who believe in you.

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