Wa-Hi grad Beckett Royce plays rugby for love and desire

Royce discovers a true love for rugby and utilizes her competitive desire to be a member of the USA Women's National team playing in the World Cup in England.

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Beckett Royce scores during a match.

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Beckett Royce, center, tackles an opponent in a rugby match.

WALLA WALLA - Beckett Royce's road to England as a member of the USA Women's National Rugby Team for the World Cup was a circuitous route.

And plenty of adventure, she's had as well.

Royce, who has been in England with the national team for a week preparing for its first World Cup match Friday against Kazakhstan, graduated from Wa-Hi in 1989. She played junior varsity basketball and varsity soccer for the Blue Devils, but athletics then took a backseat for a decade as Royce saw the world.

First, she worked a year in Alaska.

Then, it was on to travel Europe by train.

She spent a year at the College of Wooster in Ohio, then took a year off to explore the United State via Volkswagen van.

Royce settled in Seattle for a couple years, earning an AA from Shoreline Community College, and then headed to the University of Virginia to earn a bachelor's degree in Theater.

Film school in New York then awaited, "before the concrete and crowds drove me back to the Northwest," Royce explained via e-mail from England.

She's since lived in Portland, putting her theater set-building skills to work in construction.

So, how did Royce's voyage wind up with her playing the physical sport of rugby?

And how is that Royce, at age 39, is competing against much younger women at the sport's most elite event?

Love and desire, she says.

"When I moved to Portland a good friend told me about rugby ..." Royce said. "I made a brief effort at it, maybe around (the year) 2000, but I had just bought my first house and was trying to run my own contracting business, so I didn't really have the energy or interest to put into the sport."

A few years later, however, Royce realized she missed competing with, and being part of, a team.

"I went back out to practice with the Oregon Sports Union (ORSU) women's rugby club, and completely fell in love this time," she said.

There were a number of aspects of rugby that attracted Royce.

"It's the physicality of the sport that I'm really drawn to," she said. "You have to be a complete athlete to play this game. It takes strength, speed, stamina, agility, ball skills, teamwork ... and a fair bit of aggression, too.

"It's a full-contact game and there are no timeouts and few substitutions," Royce said. "Two 40-minute halves that are non-stop action, just like soccer. And full-contact hitting like football, but without all the pads and player changes and play clocks.

"In rugby, you just don't ever stop playing. And as a player, you are expected to do everything - tackle, pass, catch, run with the ball.

"I think it's the broad range of skills you have to master that makes it so challenging and so rewarding."

Within two years of playing rugby seriously, Royce made her first Territorial All-Star Team, the Pacific Coast Grizzlies. There are seven territories in the country that compete each year in the National All-Star Championships. Royce has played with the Grizzlies every year since 2005, and was a co-captain on the team that won the championship in 2009.

She first played for the USA Women's National Rugby Team in 2007, on a tour of England. She has since played in 10 international matches.

"To be on a national team for any length of time is a great honor," Royce said. "But to be chosen to represent your country for the World Cup is really the ultimate honor of all."

Royce plays flanker positions on the rugby field.

"In general, a flanker is the most aggressive tackler on the team with a real desire to win the ball," she explained. "She must be fast, strong and very fit."

Staying in top shape has helped Royce maintain her rugby career against much younger players. She works out six to eight times a week, and eats mostly organic foods, she said.

But that's not all it takes.

"I think the real reason I am able to play with, and against, women much younger than myself is just plain desire," she said.

The Eagles, which the USA Women's National Rugby Team goes by, follow Friday's World Cup pool-play opener against Kazakhstan with matches against Ireland on Aug. 24 and England Aug. 28. The tournament continues through Sept. 5.

Royce's parents, James and Diane, who still live in Walla Walla, are traveling to England to watch the USA's matches through pool play.

And after this adventure, Royce said she sees the end of her playing career in sight.

"I will play a nother fall season with ORSU and then probably retire from playing, but still continue to coach," she said.

Royce also plans to edit hours of footage she has of the USA Women's National Rugby Team's road to, and through, the World Cup into a feature-length film.

Despite all her life's adventures, Royce will always treasure her trip to the World Cup over the next few weeks.

"I did everything I could to get here," she said. "To have even made it as far as the national team seems like I have already achieved my dream and done the impossible.

"Here on out, it's all just very sweet icing on an unimaginably delicious cake."

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