USA Sevens LLC
Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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Rugby terms to know
USA rugby player Marco Barnard has broken many bones this season, but physical injury is not what pains him the most.
Barnard's father passed away early Wednesday morning in South Africa, three days before the start of the USA Seven International Rugby Tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium.
"It was pretty devastating for him," USA coach Al Caravelli said.
Caravelli immediately booked the 23-year-old Barnard a flight to Pretoria, South Africa, so that he could be with his family. But Barnard wanted to stay with his teammates and compete in the event.
"Our coach actually had a flight booked for me for that same day to go back but I asked him, I said, 'Coach I'd like to stay. I don't want to be treated differently because of what happened, but I'd like to stay and be there for the team,'" Barnard said.
Barnard is one the USA team's starting players, and he knew they would need him for their biggest tournament of the year.
But he said his role on the team is not what influenced his decision.
"I think it was what my dad would want," Barnard said. "The main connection me and my dad always had was rugby, all through our lives."
Barnard's injuries status made his participation in the tournament questionable in the first place. He broke his nose in the beginning of the season, and the injury has troubled him ever since.
"I broke it again in our second game against South Africa, so my nose is broken in three separate places. I also got a broken hand but, you know, that's rugby for you," he said.
Barnard's willingness to play through his physical and emotional issues inspired his team.
"We're all playing for Marco Barnard," said USA sevens captain Kevin Swiryn. "He's a wolverine out there, a workhorse. He might have broken his face. He's an animal out there."
In honor of Barnard's father, the team wore armbands as a gesture of support.
"I couldn't ask for anything more than these guys," Barnard said. "How they helped me and uplifted me, in the end my personal trauma has kind of brought the team together."
With the faith of his team and an enthusiastic home crowd to boost him Barnard overcame his injuries and was held out of only two of the six games.
"It's easy to play through injuries when you play for each other and you have a crowd like this, you don't feel pain," Barnard said.
Barnard was born in South Africa, where rugby is the national sport. His father introduced him to the game when he was 5 years old, and Barnard turned it into a career.
"I've played all my life. I represented provincial sides when I was 18 so I had a future in South Africa," Barnard said.
But Barnard chose to travel, playing rugby in Europe for a few seasons before deciding to pursue an education in America.
He became a member of the Kutztown University rugby team and graduated as the best rugby player in the university's history. He was named to the 15-a-side USA All-American Team an unprecedented three times and made to the Mid-Atlantic All-Star Team four times.
"I went to Kutztown University on a scholarship, got a good education, played rugby and I just I fell in love with the country," Barnard said.
However, his newfound identity as an American put him in a strange situation when it came to playing against his native South Africa.
"He's through and through an American, and I believe that he loves that side of him," Swiryn said. "He's also by heart and blood a South African, so there's probably mixed emotions there."
But Barnard insists there is no identity crisis, especially on the rugby field.
"Off the field we're very good friends, but on the field it's I'm American and they're South African. There's no love lost there."
Barnard made this clear when he scored a try against South Africa during the USA's 33-12 loss to South Africa in day one of the tournament.
"It's always tough playing against them," Barnard said. "I wasn't born American, but I'm raised American. I've been American now for five or six years, I'm really, truly, proudly American. I think there's only a few people in the world that can say they represented America and I feel proud to be one of them."