By David Poe (Fort Bliss)July 27, 2011
DENVER -- Ten years ago Pfc. PJ Vaifale picked up a rugby ball, ran with it and hasn’t stopped since. With sponsorship from Fort Bliss Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Sports, the 212th Fires Brigade Soldier’s path brought him to the Western Rugby Football Union scouting combine at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver, July 24.
Almost 6,000 miles from his rugby roots in Samoa, Vaifale, a Team Bliss Stryker Rugby player, impressed national rugby scouts in hopes that he will be selected to compete at USA Rugby’s Olympic Training Center next month, with a possible path to the Summer Olympics in 2016.
A day after the Team Bliss Strykers, also sponsored by Bliss FMWR Sports, competed in the Denver 7s Rugby Tournament, which was also held at Dick’s, Vaifale stayed in the Mile High City to showcase himself. Born in American Samoa, but raised in the village of Savaii in the former Western Samoa (now known as Samoa), Vaifale said he feels that he’s only at the beginning of his potential as a rugby player.
“It’s always a learning thing and you progress with time,” he said. “I’m happy we’re afforded the opportunities to play in these tournaments because I want to get my skills back.”
Players from teams hailing from many Western states performed drills and tests under the seasoned eye of Andre Snyman, a legendary South African Springboks rugby player. The Springboks were highlighted in the 2009 movie “Invictus” starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman. Snyman moved to the United States this year as he signed on as coach of the Glendale (Colo.) Raptors, a D1 club, and has also taken a leadership position within the WRFU.
Greg Jarvis, WRFU’s director, said the opportunity to showcase their skills on a high level was a special opportunity for Vaifale and players like him.
“The biggest opportunity in this is visibility,” said Jarvis. “There’s a big push going on in USA Rugby, going all the way down to territories like the west, to get a better viewpoint of talent. We’re trying to make more opportunities for players such as PJ to come out here, show their skill sets off and give them a path to the Olympics in four years.”
Vaifale may be the best rugby player at Fort Bliss and maybe in the city of El Paso, but the big fish in a small pond found himself in a bigger pond in Denver. He said the experience to perform, see a new part of the American mainland and learn from Snyman and other established rugby veterans was a special opportunity.
“I’m seeing new parts of the country and what better way to do that but by doing something worthwhile,” he said. “I’m meeting people who have the same passion for rugby as I do, and to go up against them is a cool feeling.”
Vaifale said whether or not he’s invited to travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., to represent the WRFU next month, with the U.S. Army’s rugby program at Fort Benning, Ga., he knows there’s a lot of opportunities out there for him and feels good that so many people stand behind him.
“As long as there are opportunities, I’m always going to be knocking on that door,” said Vaifale. “I’m representing everyone who’s been an influence on me; my dad for always being a strong supporter, my village where this all started, coaches in school and now the Army and my unit. Now that I’ve gotten a taste for it, I want the whole thing.”