By Senior Airman Rust Frank, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 30, 2013
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
On a cold fall Saturday afternoon, the crowd cheers as the competition creates a heated intensity throughout the field.
It's an environment rugby players thrive in, and for one particular player, the prospect of coming back to stakes like these gives him a burst of energy.
"It's very competitive and hard - it pushes you to your limits," said Elliot Curtis, a 52nd Force Support Squadron Eifel Arms Inn shuttle driver. "I guess you could say it gives me my adrenaline fix."
Rugby is an 80-minute game divided into two halves. The games feature constant movement except stopping for out-of-bounds balls and after a team scores a goal.
Rugby is like a lot of other sports wrapped into one, Curtis said.
"The mentality and pace is different than American football," he said. "It's soccer and wrestling all mixed into one. The pace of the game is like soccer where the ball gets turned over from one team to the other. And it's like wrestling because it's a different kind of cardio and a different kind of 'tired.'"
As with any sport, each rugby player has a position they play and a role to fill on the team. Curtis serves as the inside center and back, as opposed to fronts, of the University of Trier's rugby team.
Along with Curtis' position on the field, the 2012 Rugby Liga Region championship-winning team recently nominated him to serve as its captain. Elliot said he had to step up his game as captain, heading a team who previously won three regional championships out of the last five years.
Additionally, the squad decided to compete in the higher D-3 league for this season, potentially putting more expectations on their American captain.
"I've got to work harder than everybody else because I am the captain," he said. "I have to lead by example."
Unafraid of the burden, Curtis said he enjoys the challenge of leadership as well as those of the sport he first learned about from his family in England years ago.
His curiosity eventually led him to take up an offer to attend a practice, and he said he was hooked.
"I didn't really understand the game all that much," he said. "But I kept going back because I knew it was for me."
Curtis took to the field for three years before noticing pain in one of his shoulders that seemed to get worse with each day.
"Last January, it got so bad that it would knock the wind out of me and make me feel nauseous," he said. "I would lose strength in my dominant arm, my tackling shoulder. I did get it checked out finally, and they said that it was a type-four slap tear."
Doctors told him the injury would require an operation, a year away from the game and followed by a secondary operation due to the severe tear in his bicep tendon.
With sheer determination and a will to play rugby with his teammates again, Curtis went through months of physical therapy and the rehabilitation process.
And a shorter-than-expected seven months later, he's back for his first post-surgery game.
"Even though I play a brutal sport, they can always count on me," he said.
Curtis credited his speedy recovery to many people, especially his wife Staff Sgt. Charlotte Curtis, a 52nd Judge Advocate military justice paralegal, whom he met at a rugby pub.
"Elliot is pretty much bed ridden after a rugby match," she said. "I will cook for him, I will make him a bath with Epson Salt and let him soak and heal, he really doesn't move the day after a rugby match. But I'm supportive of what he does because I know he loves to do it."
While the practices may keep them apart for hours during the week, he said he was comforted to know she's present during the games.
"She was there through the physical therapy for the whole process," he said. "She never complains when I go to practice twice a week. But on Saturdays, she is there watching. She lets me go play rugby, and I love her for it. She goes to every game and knows how important to me that is."
Despite of coming out of a major surgery, Curtis said he still has a love for the game.
"Some people go to the gym or do cross country," he said. "I play rugby, because that's me."