Training for the Women's Rugby World Cup, Friedman School student Maurin Wallace reflects on the challenges and advantages of being the underdog.
Boston [08.18.10] Some days, Maurin Wallace (N'11) feels like she is living the story of David and Goliath. Truth is she wouldn't want it any other way.
As a frontline defensive player for the U.S. Women's National Rugby team, Wallace, a second-year student in the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, says she appreciates the team's underdog status as they head into the World Cup on August 20 in London. The inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup was held in Cardiff in 1991, and since 1994, the tournament has been held every four years, similar to soccer's World Cup.
"We are up against countries where rugby is the national sport, so while my team grew up watching basketball and baseball, theirs grew up emulating famous rugby players," Wallace laughs. "These are also countries that are much smaller geographically than us, so they can get together and train a lot easier than we can here in the U.S.
"I'm excited, though, because I feel like this year we are putting a team out there that is up to par."
A Change in Plans
For most of Wallace's life, the California native was a devout soccer player, spending her entire high school career in the mindset that the sport would play a big role in her undergraduate college selection.
"My senior year of high school I got a back injury that put me out of soccer for many months prior to the walk-on trials at University of California, San Diego, so I didn't make the team," she says. "After that, I just happened to see a flyer for rugby and thought, 'tackling, running around, everything I think I wished soccer was,'-I was immediately hooked."
Since then, Wallace says she has tried to get as much rugby action as possible, playing for San Diego club teams and working her way to the national team through her performance in regional competitions. Eventually, she was among a pool of 25 to 30 players to compete internationally.
Having competed in her first World Cup in 2006, Wallace says she feels this year's team is truly up for the challenge.
"I can speak for myself when I say I feel better going into this competition than I've felt going into any other rugby competition," she says. "These past four years, the World Cup is almost the only thing we have been talking about. Every game has been about winning that game and doing our best for that match, but it is also a training ground for the World Cup."
Making the Connection
Rugby isn't the only place where Wallace finds herself supporting the underdog. When it comes to issues of health and nutrition, she sometimes feels like she is in the same boat.
"Anytime I get into a conversation with somebody about agriculture, food or nutrition, I find myself saying, 'It's really complicated,'" Wallace says."There are too many problems to solve, but I definitely want to be one of those problem-solvers."
In her former life as a corporate recruiter, Wallace says she found herself obsessing about food and agriculture in her personal time, starting out simply because of her need and desire to keep her body primed for sports. Scouring hundreds of blogs on sustainable agriculture, Wallace says she took a particular interest in Friedman Professor Parke Wilde's U.S. food policy blog.
"I found myself soaking up information on the current state of our food system, how agriculture plays into that and how we got to where we are in terms of our health and nutrition," she says. "No other program has the diversity that really takes into account the relationships between our agriculture, our food system and nutritional health the way Tufts does."
Wallace gives a lot of credit to the Friedman School's framework which has given her experience in several sectors, from policy to science and private industry. While she says she is pretty much open to anything after graduation, she is mostly hoping to get involved in the private sector, ideally working for a sustainable food company.
As she begins to put structure around her dedication to health and nutrition, Wallace says her rugby team serves as a reminder of what her passion is all about.
"Everyone is very health conscious and careful about what they put in their bodies," she says, noting that the team works very closely with a nutritionist. "We are all dedicated to doing everything we can to be the best athletes we can be, and nutrition is a huge factor, helping to build muscle and allowing for good recovery for our bodies."
Wallace is scheduled to return from London the day before classes start, and she says she feels fortunate that the Friedman School has supported her athletic aspirations.
"Amateur athletes don't get a paycheck. They have regular nine-to-five jobs or are full-time students," she says. "We don't get many perks from what we do, but we recognize how lucky we are to have employers and faculty who give us the flexibility to follow our passion."
You can follow Wallace and the U.S. team during the tourney at www.rwcwomens.com.
Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.
Photos courtesy of team photographer, Jen Doan.