Stories Behind the '91 Jerseys- Colleen Fahey

Mar 21, 2023

The rugby scene of the early ‘90s evokes a bit of nostalgia, especially for those pioneers who trailblazed the women’s game at the top level. While the 91 World Cup certainly kicked off a spirit of passion, dedication, and groundbreaking that lives on in today’s efforts toward equity in our sport, some of the best stories can be found in the lead up to that milestone. We’ve caught up with one of those original athletes, Colleen Fahey, to learn more about her rugby journey, what wearing that jersey meant, and, of course, some amazing behind-the-scenes antics.

Colleen Fahey in her Ruggette RFC USA Rugby Heritage Shirt

FSU 1985 National Champs

1985 USA National Championships

“I found rugby when I was in college when a few girls from my sorority were on the team and invited me to practices. I loved it from the start even though I had never experienced a contact sport before. By lucky chance the team was coached by Kathy Flores and Candi Orsini! With these amazing role models I couldn't help but get hooked on rugby and the rugby community. Within a few years I found my position - prop - and was training HARD and learning as much as I could about the sport. Our team was highly competitive even though we were continually bringing in rookies to train. We were a small team in size and numbers but everyone had huge hearts and we would have followed our coaches over a cliff if asked!

In those early years we paid for most everything... travel, kit, cleats, dues, etc, Fundraising was always on the schedule. We made money with raffles, manned a concession booth at FSU football games, washed cars, sold food at festivals and even formed a loosely organized moving company and moved furniture for hire! Because ruggers were traveling frequently, constantly training and doing fundraising, we were very tight knit. Many of our closest friends were on other rugby teams because we had so much in common. Rugby matches and tournaments felt like reunions with friends and the socials afterwards were so much fun! National team play was a lot like a reunion.. with opposing players coming together to play together. It was always a relief to be on the same team with such amazing players and coaches.

 I think rugby prepares you for adversity in many different situations. So much body awareness, discipline, and confidence were learned. For me, women as role models opened my eyes to the independence and fire that women have to do anything they desire. Life long friendships and a connection to a growing sport worldwide too!

Lineout vs New Orleans 1985

There were so many comedians on our team! A girl named Terry led us in rowdy songs on long van trips. She had the uncanny ability to remember every lyric to every rugby song! One of our locks, Kathy K, liked to prank the rookies and once told the young locks that she lost her finger in a jersey/rucking mishap and would proudly hold up her hand - missing a finger for real (due to a table saw mishap)! Their faces were priceless! Pre-game talk by Kathy Flores was the best. She had a way of pointing out every advantage we had on the day (size, weather, player strengths, etc.) and make every single player feel they were key to the team and the win. I don't think I've ever tried so hard at any other sport. The first time I played in a winning tournament with the team I cried afterward as much from exhaustion as joy.

Ruggette RFC USA Rugby Heritage Shirt

The materials available now for rugby jerseys are much lighter and make you so much harder to grab on to for tackling! Back then it was always 100% cotton and they were heavy and the fit was very baggy - plus they grew in size in the rain! Not to mention how hot they were in the summer. Teams would actually cut off their sleeves and shorten the hem with scissors. Cut off sleeves make great head bands! In the early years, we had one set of match jerseys. You always hoped it would fit! A player/equipment manager (me!) was responsible for washing jerseys after matches and it was a big task after a muddy match. It was a luxury to get clean jerseys on day 2 if it was a two-day tournament. We didn't have jersey ceremonies but back then it was still a huge honor to hear your name called as a starting player.

Everything was cotton and mens sizing. There were no local stores to get shorts or jerseys, so you had to order from a catalog (NO INTERNET back then). Suppliers then started setting up at tournaments making it easier to find apparel and get the right fit. It was a real treat to get a tshirt made specifically for rugby. Only at tournaments could you find women specific shirts and we bought up all those wonderful tournament shirts. In later years suppliers began to make womens designs and sizes.

Coverpage - In Support, Summer 1991

The early days of playing rugby as an unknown sport in the US were difficult to get funding and respect. When fans and spectators finally started seeing live games in person, they were drawn to the sport and I hope impressed by the womens skills and tenacity to play. The first World Cup was a turning point where I think USA Rugby finally recognized the dedication and athleticism that the women were putting in. Crossfit has been my passion since my rugby days. It was a good fit for a stubborn workhorse prop personality! Crossfit has, from the start, recognized the athletic and money earning potential of its female athletes. It was a welcome surprise to find such parity between women and men. I think because of the early efforts of women athlete pioneers, and the huge number of women athletes we are getting more respect. In some instances in Crossfit, Women are outperforming males. I also run a bit and do OCR racing which have been fun, challenging and welcoming to women.

England vs USA Scrum, RWC 1991

I think the first WC matches opened a lot of eyes to the amazing capability of women to play the sport. It was a showcase of the best players in the world and was dramatic and fun to watch. Watching women players from so many countries play a beloved sport with dedication and high skills and honor was a first for many rugby fans. Now the expectations are high for every country and women are demanding equal pay and treatment and getting results. We left those baggy cotton jerseys in a better place and can look back with satisfaction and ahead with pride. It's so great to see Womens Rugby now in the Olympics and selling out stadiums. Legacy is a high standard that you've set that goes on and on through generations. I hope my personal legacy is that I was part of something that changed the rugby landscape for women and for all women athletes.

 Having a brand specifically for women ruggers and fans is exciting and even more so because it's women owned! Showcasing the variety of players and body shapes and sizes in great apparel is refreshing to see. Well done Ruggette RFC!”

Colleen Fahey was an integral part of the USA Women’s National team in it’s early years, playing prop for her country in Cardiff in 1991. Prior to helping the USA claim victory in the very first women’s RWC ever, she won back to back National Club Championships with FSU in 1984 and 1985, having started playing the sport only one year before their first title, in 1983. She played competitively as well as coached with Florida State until 1993. After retiring from rugby, she tackled a new challenge and took up CrossFit at age 48. Since then, she has competed at the CrossFit Games five times, winning the 50-54 age group at the 2013 Crossfit Games, and taking home 3rd place in the 55-59 age group in 2018. She is a five-time Miami Wodapalooza Age Group Champion.

In her spare time, she enjoys rescuing dogs with her wife, Lauren, volunteering her time as a photographer for dog adoption portraits, fostering dogs alongside their four, working on the foundation that supports their local shelter, and generally helping out with whatever the dogs need as much as possible!

With the Trophy, Cardiff 1991

Thank you to Colleen Fahey for sharing her story with us, and for paving the way for Women's Rugby!
All photos are courtesy Colleen Fahey.

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