By Curtis Reed
It’s rare for an American rugby player to get an opportunity overseas. I know; I cover them regularly, so to see the blossoming career of Kevin Swiryn come to an end is disappointing for both Swiryn and fans. Swiryn announced last week his retirement from rugby due to chronic injuries. While his career may have been relatively short, it was full of accomplishments and lessons for younger rugby players.
Swiryn first got into rugby when St. Mary’s dropped their College Football program. After pondering what to do, he took up an invitation to join a rugby match. That was all it took and he was hooked. Swiryn quickly began to excel. By the time he finished at St. Mary’s he had transformed himself into one of the better college players of the last decade, captaining his team to a final four appearance.
This strong play eventually led to an IRANZ scholarship and a trip to New Zealand. There he earned the distinction of being named the first American vice-captain of the IRANZ side. He then followed this up by being named the captain of the All-American team that traveled to New Zealand in the summer of 2008.
With his collegiate career finished, U.S.A. Rugby came calling. By late 2008 Swiryn was chosen for the Eagles 7’s team that would compete in the NAWIRA Championship for a place in the Rugby 7’s World Cup. His strong play led to continued call-ups. Soon he emerged as the best player for the U.S.A. team that secured core status on the series. Eventually, he would also be named captain of the 7’s team and viewed as a consistent threat.
Swiryn’s 15’s career began in 2009 against Ireland back in his collegiate ground in California. In total, he would play 13 times for the Eagles and twice for the Select XV. He last match was fitting at the Rugby World Cup where he started the match against Australia.
His strong play on the 7’s circuit and for the Eagles led to a contract with French club Agen in 2010. Rather than slowly easing his way into European rugby, Swiryn quickly adapted and began playing regularly for the newly promoted side. His game really seemed to improve as he learned the tricks of day in and day out rugby. It was the play of players like Kevin Swiryn, Mike MacDonald, and Todd Clever that really turned heads in Europe and elsewhere. They showed that players who grew up in America are capable of playing with the best players in the world. Their effort has opened doors to players like Scott LaValla and Chris Biller to get their chance.
Unfortunately injuries began to take their toll. Upon returning from the World Cup Swiryn suffered an injury and when it appeared that he had recovered from that (he played in a couple Amlin Challenge Cup matches and scored a try) he suffered another injury. It was then discovered that he had problems with the disks in his back and that it would be hard for him to recover, forcing him to retire. Here is a little taste for all those who never got to see him play.
For all the achievements Swiryn is known for on the field, it was his personality and leadership off the field that truly made him stand out. He readily took on leadership of any team he was a part of. He was the captain of every team he played for save the Eagles and Agen. His leadership and un-selfish attitude made players and coaches respect him. Once at the Hong Kong 7’s, he had the opportunity to set the record for tries scored in a match by a single player, but rather than take the record for himself, he passed off to a team mate so they could get their name on the sheet. That is the kind of player he was and the kind of person he is.
Swiryn was also passionate for the women’s game. In a recent interview, Swiryn suggested that it should be the women who are awarded 15 contracts with U.S.A. Rugby and that the men should be the one’s only getting 8. His argument was that the women had a better chance of medaling than the men. This passion may have been due to his girlfriend, Lauren, whom he famously proposed to at the end of the Las Vegas 7’s. She too is a rugby player.
U.S.A. Rugby needs more Kevin Swiryn’s. They need smart (graduated cum laude) leaders willing to work as hard as they can to get to the top. Swiryn shows that you don’t have to take up rugby at a young age to be successful. If every young player was to put in as much effort as he did, there may be three or four players ready to take his spot at Agen.
As he returns to Seattle and begins a new career, we can look back on the playing career and Kevin Swiryn and be grateful for his contribution to rugby in this country.
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