Shieldmaidens and Midwest Rugby

Updated: February 13, 2013

Shields Maidens were fierce Viking women warriors who in legend and life shared the bloody business of war side by side with their fellow male Vikings. Leif Erickson pregnant half-sister supposedly took up a sword and bare breasted stood her ground among attacking Native Americans on Leif Ericson’s trip to America.  While Ms. Fredydis Eirksdottir was never identify as a shield maiden in Viking’s writing, her legend would indicate that she played the role of Shield Maiden perfectly.

In Cedar Rapids, modern day Shieldmaidens do battle on the Rugby field as they plunder and pillage their way through their opponents. It has been said that soccer (or as the rest of world will describe it, Football) is a gentleman’s game played by Hooligans but Rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen and ladies.   One example of this act of sporting plunder was last fall when the Shieldmaidens’ slaughter the Omaha Goats 26 to14. Leading the charge was Nicole Roth with two Trys and Amanda Brown who added another Try. (Try is the equivalent of scoring a touchdown. )  Rugby as sport is more than competition on the field but solidarity off the field for it is not uncommon for opponents to hoist a few beers after the match with each other.  Nicole Roth noted, “Playing in out-of-town tournaments. It is fun to travel with the team and meet other rugby players from different states.”

For many years, Cedar Rapids has been home to one of the better amateur men team in the Midwest, the Head Hunters but in 2011, the talk started about forming a woman team.  Nicole Roth, who played Rugby in her college days, was invited to help form the team along with Zach Cramer and his wife, Melissa.  Ms. Roth, who still wished to continue playing Rugby, jumped at the chance.  When asked how she got interested in the sport, she quipped, “I started playing my freshman year in high school in Minnesota. The team was brand new at the time and I figured since nobody knew what rugby was, I couldn’t be any worse than any of the other players. The idea of being able to tackle and play a full contact sport was really appealing. “    For Ms. Roth, the contact and challenge that goes with a physically demanding game still reaches inside her but she is not the only one.  Erin Detterbeck added, “I have always been a competitive person, but Rugby seemed to be a step above the other sports. I have a tendency to be attracted to things that other people might shy away from, and Rugby seemed to fit into that category.”   The final push to join the Shieldmaidens came from her 80 year old father, who found a recruiting flyer in a local grocery store.  “My father told me that it was something that I should look into doing. He always is trying to get his 6 children to do things that are challenging, and sometimes dangerous,” joked Ms. Detterbeck.

Rae Antonelli was recruited to the sport at a wine tasting Party. Like Detterbeck, she had not played Rugby and knew very little about the sport but joined five other women along with the founder of the Shieldmaidens, Melissa Cramer for cross training and preparation for the initial season.  If the dangerous aspect of the sport appealed to Detterbeck, Ms. Antonelli finds the sport more representative of life itself.  She mentioned to me, “I’ve learned that rugby is pretty much life. I think it was best described when someone said, so if Rugby is Life then the pitch is your stage; the scrums are your struggles, each match is a page, the line-outs your high-points, the rucks are your low. Each half is a battle, each battle you grow.”

All of these women find that energy of the sport intoxicating as Winger Amanda Brown observed, “The high energy, and contact nature of the sport.  And the fact that it is a party along with a sport-you will never met another group like a rugby” group!”  Maybe the one aspect of the sport is the camaraderie that exists beyond the playing field.  For in team sports, in particular the more physical sports, there exist a shared passion and shared sacrifice that comes with it.  Rae Antonelli stated that she and her fellow Shieldmaidens’ play with our hearts, not for money and fame.”

For these women, they bring a competitive spirit from their past sports efforts.  Nicole Roth played Rugby through high school and college but she also played basketball. Erin Detterbeck was not just a competitive swimmer but a golfer and competitive volleyball player. Rae Antonelli participated in triathlon, running, swimming and cycling throughout her life before devoting her weekends to Rugby, Amanda Brown participated in track, cross-country and high school basketball as well as Rugby at Iowa State.   These ladies still have the competitive spirit from their past athletic achievements.

These ladies are as different off the field with different interests and job but somehow they coalesce as a unit on the field.  Rae Antonelli is a practicing Buddhist, who exhibits a quiet reserve personality while holding a job at Timberline manufacturing, which specializes in production of radios. (It has been noted that the reserved Rae often turns into a fierce warrior when she grabs the oblong Rugby ball.)  Erin Detterbeck works with Verizon but is an Air Force veteran and learned to speak Farsi while serving her country.  Amanda Brown works as a Cedar Rapids Community School District Dietitian and Nicole Roth works at Great America Financial Services. . Yet these women bring not only a diverse set of skills from previous sports but work in variety of employment but on the Rugby field, they will tell you they are one.

Rugby is a essentially a year round sport as Shield Maidens play a Spring and Fall season plus work out throughout the year to stay in shape and sharpen their skills..  Amanda Brown reminisced, “Playing in our first “Ruggerfest” in Missouri last spring when it had been a monsoon during and leading up the tournament.  There was so much standing water on our field the ball actually floated.  Come Sunday they had to move our game to a different field as a safety precaution to not get held underwater on a tackle.  We were a muddy mess! It was a blast, a quote of the trip was “This is how memories are made” and we still laugh about it!” Rae Antonelli quipped “I find it funny that there’s so many men and women that think they’re tough enough to do MMA but you ask them to play rugby and they think you’re nuts. And I suppose maybe that’s what we should be looking for! … girls that are crazy…not tough.” Often the Shieldmaidens find themselves on the road traveling throughout the Midwest including much of Iowa.

Soon the Shieldmaidens will begin their 2013 Spring season at the end of March where they will once again imitate the Vikings women of legend as they hope to plunder and pillage their opponent on the field while enjoying a few adult beverages off the field.  Like life itself, every match plays out differently with a new hero waiting to set up her moment of glory and Rugby is as much about the friendship formed on the field that matters years later as the success on the field.

After a grueling race in which our relay won while setting a new school record, my track coach came up to me and stated, “The pain you feel will soon go away but your accomplishment will last a lifetime.”  He was right and I suspect that Erin Detterbeck first Try will stick with her throughout her life but the pain it took to get there will long since dissipate.  All the stories she will be able to tell her children as they grow older.   The modern day Shieldmaidens are now creating their legend and who knows, someday, these modern day warriors will be celebrated in stories and poems like their Norse namesake.

As for the sport of Rugby itself, it is unique sport for every game is like a party both during the game and after.  It is as much a social event as a sporting event for many Rugby players and the Shieldmaidens enjoy both the party side of the game as well as the athletic side of the game.

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