Ah, the gentle sounds of mayhem in autumn | AspenTimes.com

Ah, the gentle sounds of mayhem in autumn

Chad Abraham
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A rugby player from the Gentleman of Aspen reels from a pile up and a bloody lip in Sunday's Ruggerfest final. Daniel Bayer photo.

For some participants in Aspen Ruggerfest, the worst pain they experienced was the headache that comes after a night out in the bars.

Other ruggers, however, weren’t quite as lucky this weekend. Whether it was a broken back, a shattered jaw or a ripped ear, the unavoidable results of high-speed impacts between very large men kept ambulance and hospital workers busy.

Aspen Ambulance had three medics and two emergency vehicles covering Rio Grande and Wagner parks during the tournament, and Rich Walker, director of the ambulance service, said they were busy.

“It’s a pretty big deal, and we did see a fair number of injuries,” he said. “It seems like this year was a little worse than normal.”

Medics treated about 25 people for injuries, and roughly 10 players were transported to Aspen Valley Hospital.

Walker said injuries included broken bones, dislocations and “one broken back.” He said medics treated two people for ear injuries ? “one was a little bit [torn], one was a little more.”

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“This game isn’t for the faint of heart,” Walker said.

The players know the game is tough, exhausting and at times brutal, and most of the Ruggerfest participants train and condition their bodies for the toll, said Tim Francis, tournament chairman.

“Obviously, there’s going to be a few people in there who are going to be out of shape,” he said, “but most of the people know what they’re getting into and do prepare for that.”

Francis, a former Aspen player, said bumps and bruises are expected during rugby.

“Maybe once in every five years, you might have one [injury] you’re not expecting,” he said.

A particularly unruly aspect of the game is the ruck, where teams battle for possession of the ball amid a mass of bodies.

During a ruck, “the ball is supposed to have been placed, and the teams are supposed to be pushing over it. If they have their hands in there it’s a penalty,” Francis said. “If anyone puts [in] their hands or tries to impede on the ball, somebody might try to keep that from happening, you know, by maybe stepping on the guy’s hands or something. If people do see somebody in there trying to mess with the ball, then they will take care of that guy.

“Is there somebody who’s a dirty player and you don’t want to be caught down there with him? I’m sure there is. You’re down there covering up, pretty much.”

While it is undoubtedly a rough sport, most of the rugby players who suffered minor (and not-so-minor) injuries didn’t feel the need to go to the hospital, Walker said.

“Some, we feel that it’d be better if they did go in, but they refuse,” he said. “And if someone’s competent mentally to make that decision, there’s nothing we can do about that.

“And then there’s always [the cases] everyone agrees they need to go in.”

[Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com]