October 24, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

On Saturday, October 28, the Rugby World Cup is must-see TV for Braden Gilmore and Elizabeth Harsh.

For Gilmore, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The sophomore from Tanzania is captain of the Calvin men’s rugby club and he’s played the sport competitively since eighth grade. But for Harsh, a senior from the Czech Republic, it’s a bit unexpected, considering the last time the World Cup was played in 2019, she knew nothing of the sport.

Changing sports

“When I was younger and all through high school, I was a figure skater,” said Harsh. “I was pretty competitive, did international competitions.”

After graduating high school, Harsh decided to end her figure skating career. She took a couple of gap years, including spending time in New Zealand, before she decided on coming to Calvin to study pre-med.

“I didn’t really have a plan for how I was going to stay active when I got to Calvin, but one of the girls on my floor during a floor dinner one night told me she was involved in rugby,” said Harsh.

For Harsh, it sounded fun and interesting, so she jumped in, and it didn’t take her long to get up to speed.

“Figure skating has helped me a lot in rugby, you really need strong legs and good cardio and in figure skating you need to be able to get back up when you fall and make it look like that fall was nothing. So, I like to think when I get tackled or when I tackle someone, I can get back up and get back into action,” said Harsh.

Learning together

For Gilmore, a mechanical engineering major, he fell in love with rugby early on because of its “team” focus.


“It’s such a cooperative sport, where every position works with every other one,” said Gilmore. “The team unity is just really, really obvious and really strong. “I’ve enjoyed the team camaraderie, it’s a huge team sport and you all rely on each other a ton.”

It’s what Gilmore and Harsh love about their experience playing rugby at Calvin. “Everyone leans on each other, and teaches each other,” said Gilmore. “It’s very easy for a newcomer to learn the ropes pretty quick.”

In fact, both say many members of their teams are newer to the sport.

“You really don’t need any prior experience to join,” said Harsh. “That’s actually how it is right now on our team, there is no one who had played rugby before coming to college.”

“We have a bunch of guys this semester even who didn’t know anything about rugby coming in and they are actually showing that they are pretty athletic. That’s really all you need,” said Gilmore. “As long as you get the basics of the game, you can learn pretty quickly and it can just flow from there.”

A family feel

While both Harsh and Gilmore are competitors at heart, what they have appreciated most about their experience on the rugby team and at Calvin is the community they’ve formed, especially as international students.

“The international community at Calvin is really big,” said Gilmore. At Calvin, students hail from more than 50 countries around the world.

“You’ll see international students from all over the world organizing events and just hanging out in the library, getting coffee together, so Calvin is really unique in that way. And it doesn’t really matter which country you are from, we all have something in common,” said Gilmore. “When I visited other schools there wasn’t as much of an emphasis on that kind of camaraderie or that family feel amongst international students.”

When Harsh and Gilmore and their rugby teams gather on Saturday to watch the rugby World Cup Match, that camaraderie will again be on display. But the two will be on different sides.

Harsh will be rooting for New Zealand as she spent six months there after high school working with a nonprofit doing some medical volunteering. As for Gilmore, he’s rooting for the team from his home continent. “I’m a huge fan of South Africa. They are just so fun to watch.”

Rugby World Cup

On Saturday, October 28, join the men's and women's rugby teams for the Rugby World Cup Final watch party in Devos Communication Building (Room 150). Game starts at 3 p.m. Free Food provided!

Before the match

Watch the men's and women's rugby teams scrimmage at Noon on Phi Chi Field.

Recent stories