FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Being part of a team means being part of something bigger than oneself. For 1st Lt. Zyekeela Crittington, a platoon leader with the 509th Clearance Company and member of the All-Army Women’s Rugby team, representing the Army as an officer and rugby player each provide the chance to help others reach their potential, “so we can be great as a whole.”
“I joined the Army because I wanted a challenge and to test my potential; I wanted to become a good Army leader so that people could be encouraged to be the best that they can be,” she said. “In rugby, everyone has the responsibility to tackle; everyone has to pass the ball; and everyone has to give their all in order to get the job done. It’s the most selfless sport I’ve ever been a part of.”
On June 26, Crittington and her rugby team won the 2021 Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championships in Wilmington, North Carolina. The Army team outscored their Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard opponents a combined 81 to 5 on their way to winning their second-straight championship.
This was Crittington’s first year representing the Army in the competition, where they compete against the other service branches — and sometimes against civilian teams as well — during an annual two-week temporary duty assignment.
“We don’t play matches throughout the year, although that would be nice,” she said.
Crittington was born and raised in Cocoa, Florida, and sports were always a big part of her life. Growing up, she played flag football, basketball, softball and soccer, and ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 4 by 100-meter relay and threw shotput in track and field. In high school, she participated in varsity basketball, lacrosse and swim.
She was introduced to rugby when she arrived at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point in 2015.
“The guys on the men’s team introduced me to the wonderful game of rugby and welcomed me to join since there wasn’t a women’s team,” she said. “When I got accepted to the U.S. Military Academy, I made the team and played four years for the Women’s Army Rugby team.”
Crittington said she loves the connections that form in such a tough sport.
“It is made for all kinds of people, no matter the size,” she said. “It is one of a kind and allows for great bonds to grow as well as showing you what you’re really made of.”
To keep her rugby skills sharp year-round, Crittington said she has to travel a bit — many weekends are spent at a rugby club in Springfield, Missouri.
“I do not have local rugby players I can practice with on post,” she said. “I usually find time to head to Springfield Rugby Club and join their coed practice, or if I'm home, I'd play with the local club, Brevard Old Red Eye Rugby Club.”
Crittington, who has been stationed at Fort Leonard Wood for nearly two years, said she also plays soccer to stay in shape for rugby, along with weight lifting, running sprints and speed drills, and “passing the ball with people I can find in my company to tag along.”
Playing and training for rugby has the added benefit of helping with some of the Army Combat Fitness Test events as well, she said.
“Especially the sprint-drag-carry, the deadlift and leg tuck,” she said. “You have to be strong and conduct muscular-strength exercises in order to handle the impact and aggression of the sport.”
Being a rugby player appeals to the team player and Soldier in Crittington.
“I love it because you push yourself physically for those to your left and to your right,” she said. “It is a great opportunity and an honor to be a part of a team that plays for so much more than ourselves.”
Company 1st Sgt. Matthew Usera said the unit is proud of their senior platoon leader.
“The level of physical fitness dedication to maintain in order to be a part of an All-Army Team is tremendous,” he said. “Her participation in the All-Army Rugby team gave our Soldiers a great deal of insight about the All-Army competition teams that exist. For those Soldiers that are wanting to participate in these events, they now have a key member of our unit that they can engage about these events. Her ability to make and participate in the team shows our Soldiers that with the right amount of physical fitness dedication, they may be eligible to try out and participate in future events. As a unit, we are extremely proud of her efforts and we’re thrilled that she and her team were able to win.”
Soldiers interested in applying to the All-Army Sports program should visit https://www.armymwr.com/programs-and-services/sports-fitness/all-army-sports.