Clifton Park's Claudia Braymer -- World Cup rugby player

Claudia Braymer w:ball.jpg

She's 5'3" and can probably take you down.

Meet Claudia Braymer.

Claudia is a 5-foot-3, 28-year-old mom and attorney from Clifton Park.

She enjoys running, teamwork and tackling people much larger than herself.

And in two weeks, she's off to England to represent the US on the Women's World Cup Rugby Team.

Claudia w:mom and daughter.jpgHow did you start playing rugby?

I've been playing for about 12 years. I started my freshman year of college at Penn State. I was always in sports and played a lot of soccer. I was in high school when the US women's soccer team was really at its peak, and I thought that was what I wanted to do -- play World Cup soccer.

I played my first rugby game and left soccer in the dust.

What do you love about it so much?

I like tackling people. (laughs) I'm a pretty small person -- I guess I find it challenging that I'm able to hit big people and bring them down and it surprises them. I like the contact sport aspect, but I also like that it's mentally challenging. I play scrumhalf -- in football terms that's kind of like the quarterback, so I do a lot of directing and passing. I don't really do a lot of the dirty work in the scrum where there's a lot of pushing. My job is more decision making, so it's OK that I'm small. I'm pretty strong and pretty quick, that helps me on the field.

How strong and quick?

I can power clean about 140 and I run a six minute mile, but you're not running long distances in rugby, it's more short sprints.

What do people say when they find out you're a kick-ass rugby player?

(Laughs) They're usually surprised. My friends and family are very supportive -- especially my husband. We've been married eight years and I've been playing competitively the whole time, except when I was expecting our daughter. I have to travel a lot. When I go to the world cup he'll pretty much be a single dad for two weeks.

But most people don't know a lot about rugby in the US. We didn't grow up with it, so it's not part of our culture. They say, "That's like field hockey, right?"

How do you explain the game to them?

I tell them it's kind of like football except that play doesn't stop and everyone can run with the ball, everyone can pass, everyone can kick. But you can only pass sideways or backward -- no forward passing.

The object is to run the ball into the end zone, but it's called the try zone. And you can't just run across, you have to touch the ball down. That's where the football expression touchdown came from. But in rugby it's not called a touchdown, it's called a try. Weird, right?

Claudia 4.jpg

People just went nuts over World Cup soccer, but you really don't hear much about rugby at all. Does that bug you?

Yes. It's basically our Olympics, because the version of rugby I play won't be in the Olympics -- they just admitted seven player to the 2016 Olympics, but I play 15. It would be nice if it would get some more attention. We work really hard and sacrifice a lot to get here.

This year NBC is picking up two games, though, so that's great. They'll air our game with England on August 28, and they'll air the women's final.

So how does a person get to the national rugby team?

In any major city there is going to be a rugby club for adults. My team is the Albany Knickerbockers. The country is broken into different territories and you have to try out to get on your territory team. Then there's a big tournament where the territories play each other and the national team scouts are there.

The scouts will invite players to a national league camp where they basically beat the crap out of you -- timed sprints and how many push-ups can you do -- stuff like that. Depending on how well you do you might get called up to play in a test match. We play Canada a lot. As it gets closer to World Cup there are qualifiers. Then back in June they listed the 30 players who are rostered to play in the world cup.

Is it all really competitive, or is it something anyone can try and play?

The Knickerbockers have an A side and a B. The A side is the competitive, traveling side and the B side is for people who have never played before -- so we can coach them on the basics. Most people pick up rugby later in life, since it's not really part of our culture. There's no real age limit. There's someone on our team that's 38.

Claudia 3.jpg

It's a pretty rough sport. What are the most serious injuries you've seen in this game?

There's a couple of players from the Northeast territory that have been paralyzed from neck injuries.

Seriously? That doesn't concern you?

You try not to think about that. I love the game, and I've played in a lot of games and I'm in really good physical condition right now so I'm able to protect my body. There are injuries in any sport. If you're going to worry you might as well not step on the field. More injuries come from not being fully committed to the tackle.

Have you been injured?

A couple of concussions. And some joint problems -- but nothing too serious. And bruises -- there are lots of bruises. That's part of the game.

What do you do when you're not playing rugby?

Well, I'm a mom and I'm an attorney, though I'm currently unemployed. I was in a clerkship that was supposed to end this month. I left a little early to get ready for the World Cup. I'll be looking for a job.

There should be a job out there for an attorney that can take people down at the knees...

(Laughs) I hope so. Actually, I'm not that way. I'm really more of a collaborator. You learn a lot about communication and working with other people through rugby.

You've been to the World Cup once before. What's it like?

It's very intense and competitive. I was really nervous. This year we're supposed to be staying in a village in Surry, but at the last World Cup we were pretty secluded from other teams, except South Africa. They're very glorious -- they sing and dance. It's a tradition to have dinner with the team that you play against and that's interesting -- you were just on the field trying to beat each other and now you're eating together and sharing stories about the game.

It's kind of like the opening ceremonies at the Olympics -- there's a feeling of everyone in the rugby word coming together. Rugby has been an opportunity to use my body and mind and meet great people, but it's also given me this amazing opportunity to represent my country. The US team won in 1991 -- we've been in the middle of the pack since then. Last time we came in 5th. Hopefully we'll do even better this year.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Capital Region will also be represented in England by Delmar native Melissa Kanuk. The women's rugby World Cup begins on August 20.

(Thanks, Ryan!)


That's so badass.

Best wishes to Claudia, Melissa and USA Women's Rugby!

go Claudia go!

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