Illinois native Lauren Doyle is making more than just her Olympic debut in Rio, she's making history in a sport she never expected to play.
Doyle, of Boody, is part of the first-ever women’s U.S rugby sevens team at the Summer Olympics.
As a track and field star at Meridian High School, Doyle never thought she'd end up playing a sport she knew nothing about.
“I wanted to play a sport in college but I didn’t want to run track,” Doyle said. “I was decent at basketball, I liked volleyball but not super awesome and [rugby] literally just landed in my lamp and I’m like, 'I’m doing it.'”
Doyle and her parents were not at all familiar with rugby.
“It just looked like a whole bunch of contact and not much strategy and they were scared for my life,” Doyle said.
She was recruited to play Rugby by Eastern Illinois University her junior year of high school. In 2015, the women’s rugby team at Eastern was suspended because of a lack of players.
It took her about three years to get a handle on rugby and she continues to adapt to the changing rules of the sport.
“I literally learned rules almost every single day,” Doyle said. “I do something wrong and then they say no you can’t do that.”
The coach at Eastern noticed Doyle was a fast runner and looked to recruit quality athletes. Doyle was also involved in several sports throughout her life and that made an impression on the coach.
“I became an overall athlete to him,” Doyle said. “I got recognized for track just because I was fast.”
Doyle said she needed a break from track and field after all the years of putting too much pressure on herself throughout high school in order to be seen by universities.
“When I came into college I was like I cannot do track right now,” Doyle said.
She eventually came back to the sport and walked on her junior year of college in order to help make her faster for rugby.
She started off playing Rugby Union, which consists of 15 players on each team. However, she specifically loves rugby sevens as she competes in the debut of the event at the Olympics. Rugby sevens is exactly how it sounds—seven players on each team.
“It is so fast paced and the ball moves all over the place,” Doyle said. “It’s just a really exciting game and it’s exciting to play. I feel like it really is the top athletes that play it.”
Doyle is excited to represent the U.S.A. in women’s rugby for the first time in the history of the Games.
“Honestly it’s kind of a hard concept to grasp,” Doyle said. “My main goal is to inspire a whole group of people in the United States and I really want the United States to pick it [rugby] up.”
Doyle wants to inspire a younger generation to learn about the sport and begin playing it.
“My coach came to me in 2010 and he was like rugby is going to be in the Olympics in 2016 and you need to be on the residency program before then,” Doyle said.
Being on the USA rugby residency program means the athletes are professional players for the sport. Doyle became a part of that program in 2013.
“It’s really an honor to be on this team,” Doyle said.