Experience of a Lifetime
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The Westmont Rugby club recently arrived back at home after an incredible spring break in the Rugby Mecca of the world: New Zealand. As third-year Taylor Bartlett said, “The trip was amazing and one of the most awesome experiences I have ever had in my entire life. The lifelong comradery that was built from the trip and the amazing rugby we played will never be forgotten and always have a place in my memories.” I had a chance to sit down with Bartlett for an in-depth recap of the team’s journey which proved to be an incredible opportunity for ministry and evangelism through the game of rugby.
After 20 hours of travel starting from LAX, the team eventually landed in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was the first stop on the tour. Following an early morning practice, the team was given the remainder of the day to themselves to explore the city. As Bartlett described, “The city in Christchurch was pretty broken,” due to a recent earthquake which caused a great deal of damage. Taylor noted too that there were reconstruction efforts everywhere and the city “seemed to be working towards lots of progress.” That night, the Warriors had the opportunity to watch the local professional rugby team; the Christchurch Crusaders win their match.
The following day, the Warriors prepared to take on the Christchurch football club. Bartlett described the match as nothing short of a blowout, speaking highly of the New Zealanders skill and dedication to the game. Taylor mentioned that many of the Christchurch team members, who were all between the ages of 16 and 21 and pursuing a professional career in rugby, “had been playing since the ages of four or five years old.”
After the game, Westmont and Christchurch got to know each other even better through a social event marked by good food, beer and great conversation. As Bartlett described, “the night was full of singing and just enjoying each other’s company.” He noted too that Christchurch was among the best teams Westmont has ever faced and taught the team a lot about the game of rugby. The following day, the team had another early wake-up out on another team adventure and also to our next destination, Queenstown.
On their way to Queenstown, the team made a stop at Rangitada Rafting Company, taking them up high into the mountains for a rafting adventure. The team split off into separate rafts based on class standing and embarked on a journey of class three, four and five rapids. The adventure concluded with a 10-meter (30-foot) cliff jump at the end of the river. After the rafting, the team ate with their river guides and then headed out to Queenstown.
After a five-hour bus ride, the team arrived in Queenstown, a place known for its breathtaking beauty and the heavy influx of tourism each year. After getting settled in, team members had the opportunity to experience Queenstown in a number of ways. Some of the men took a tour of the Milford Sound, on which they visited Fiordland, the filming site of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Riley Hall and Luke Faith took a plane ride over the mountains to get back to Queenstown. Other members of the team did took a hike up by the gondola spent time at the beach. Fourth-year, Casey Underwood, was even able to go fly-fishing, where he caught some of the biggest fish he’s ever been able to capture.
The following day, the team took on the Wakatipu Rugby Club. Bartlett mentioned that the players of Wakatipu were much older than the Westmont Warriors. Many of them were in their early to mid 30s. The match proved to be much closer than the first game, but in the end, Westmont still lost. After the game, Westmont socialized with the Wakatipu team before heading out early the next morning for Wellington: the final destination.
When the team arrived in Wellington, they agreed that the city reminded them strongly of a cleaner San Francisco. Wellington was beautifully built alongside the water. Upon arrival, the team went directly to the facilities of the New Zealand Institute of Sport, where they would be playing the following day.
The athletes of Wellington welcomed Westmont with traditional Maori cultural dances and even performed a version of the Haka as they walked in. They opened the course of events with a speech in the native language and then invited the Warriors to enjoy the night with song, dance and food. The following day, the Warriors took on a very good Wellington team, who opened the game by doing a traditional war Haka. “It was one of the most awesome things I had ever seen in my entire life!” Bartlett said. After the game we traded jerseys with the other team, which Bartlett said, “was the perfect way to end the trip.”