New Sport Making Waves

Rugby player running with ball AP / ABC News

The folks in the Boston area are embracing a sport that hardly anyone else in this country seems to be playing. It's called Underwater Rugby and it's definitely something out of the ordinary.

From the surface, underwater rugby seems like a bunch of kids looking for a coin at the bottom of the pool.

But from below, it's more like a strangely silent shark-feeding frenzy, only the bait is a saline-filled ball.

Jeannine Fabian of the U.S. Women's Underwater Rugby team says of the ball, "It won't sink like a rock. It'll arch when you pass it, rather than floating or sinking."

And the goal is similar to that of most sports, really. "Just try and get the ball in the basket," Fabian says.

Mind you, that basket rests 15 feet below the water.

Fabian says, "Sounds easy, but somehow I think it's going to be tough."

Tougher still? Suiting up. This is the stuff that B-rated monster movies are made of. The uniform looks quite silly and even more silly is sitting on the wastebasket. But that is not how the players feel.

With a big laugh Fabian says, "I never thought of it like that. I don't feel so silly underneath. I actually feel very graceful and very in tune with the pool."

So Murphy gave it try. Personally, she says she felt like the creature from "The Black Lagoon" until she dove in the pool and he didn't feel much better in the water, either.

The game is played with six players on each team. Murphy lined up and then it was time for submersion. Only she spent a lot of time on the surface, just keeping out of the fray. And even from that vantage point, it's hard to tell what was going on.

Frank Bensch of the Men's Underwater Rugby team explains, "You cannot grab any equipment, you cannot grab masks, fins, snorkels or bathing suits. And we've had many funny incidents with bathing suits."

That's because you can tackle each other, and, boy, do they. Murphy wrestled for the ball a few times, but she kept running out of breath.

Bensch says, "It takes six months until you get your breathing." Murphy found not breathing to be the hardest part and Picot agreed: "Yeah, it's against nature not to breathe."

It's also against nature for a tiny gal to take on a big guy. But hey, the women from the Underwater Rugby team are really tough.

Fabian says, "Size doesn't matter."

In Europe, they take this sport pretty darn seriously. The year's world championships in Denmark even had a goal cam! Sweden topped Norway in the finals.

But the whole sport actually got its start in Germany in the '60s.

Lenny Picot of the Men's Underwater Rugby team says in Germany there are probably 100 teams playing at a competitive level. In the U.S., he has been playing for 20 years.

He says, "My whole working career, I've had this to look forward to on Monday nights."

And now his daughter, Laurie, plays, too.

She says, "I think I started playing somewhere around 19, until I finally got the guts to get in the pool and I'm mad at myself for not doing it earlier."

Laurie is one of the strongest players on the U.S. women's team that went to the world championship for the first time this year.

They had only six players so they couldn't make substitutions as the Europeans did. But they actually won a game anyway - 4-2 against Turkey.

Picot says, "The girls were unbelievable. It was wild"

And there really is strategy involved, especially when it comes to making goals. If you can't lift your opponent up, then try lifting one of his legs. That's what Murphy found out. As for her, well, she couldn't seem to move any legs when she got a chance to score a total freebie.

Obviously, she wasn't going to get this sport in just one night. And at the end, she really needed a nap to recover from all the exhausting exercise.

If you would like to get involved with this sport, you can get more information at UnderwaterRugby.org.
  • Tatiana Morales

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