Life and Rugby in Los Alamos, NM

“I was playing softball and I hit a guy that was in my baseline and kind of broke his face. I tried to play park football and I was just a little aggressive. I didn’t know what to do. Then a guy told me about rugby, and so I started playing rugby and I’ve played the whole 33 years with one lung and that’s why rugby, rugby saved my life! I mean it really did.” – Demetrio Cardiel

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I’ve been playing for 32 years, going on 33 now and I’ve played the whole 33 with one lung. So they (sons) grew up playing official rugby when they were four and five and they’ve been playing every year since then so it works out really nicely.  Now I’m coaching their team the Albuquerque Aardvarks, I’m coaching that team now too and it was my old team. I played with them until 2011 all the time, until I went to Vegas for a little while, so I have a lot of history in the game itself, so it works.

My name is Demetrio Cardiel, originally from Alamogordo, NM.  I started with soccer naturally, my dad and my uncles played in Guadalajara and so they brought that game into Alamogordo and they had a men’s team. And so we would help them when we were small and then I actually helped start the first high school soccer team in Alamogordo.  

Why Rugby

When I was 18 I died, my temperature started shooting up and everything so I was clinically dead, I was in the hospital I was out and then they rushed me through exploratory surgery, brought me back to life and when they closed me back up I got full blown double pneumonia and so I was in the hospital for 23 days.  When they brought me back to life I had pneumonia, one of my lungs cleared up and one of them didn’t. So before that I was a competitive body builder, so I worked really hard on being the best at whatever I did.  And I lost like 35 pounds and I only weighed 130 pounds so I was skinny and I couldn’t breathe, I was walking around with an oxygen tank and so it was frustrating for me because I was trying to go back to the sports that I knew, trying to play them.  I was kind of aggressive, I was playing softball and then I hit a guy that was in my baseline and kind of broke his face; and then I tried to play park football and I was just a little aggressive I guess trying to come back and hurting my friends so I didn’t know what to do.  Then the guy told me about rugby and so I started playing rugby and I’ve played the whole 33 years with one lung and that’s why rugby, rugby saved my life.  I mean it really did.

With my high school players we practice in Los Alamos 2-3 days per week and on the weekends are the games so we practice there on the school facility.  Its NMAA recognized so we do have to go through the NMAA rules but it is not school sponsored, it’s a club.  

Rugby is similar to life.  In Rugby the more you see the more you find out.  In Rugby you can’t be really good and have everyone else be bad and still be effective.  So in order to be really good you have to bring your team up instead of tear them down.  Like a lot of American sports tear them down so they can get tougher; in rugby if you do that, you are left with no team. So arrogance is not something that is very becoming in the game.  

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They all start bonding with each other, they study together and in Los Alamos. I don’t have, as you can see, a lot of athletes, or a lot of size, but I call ’em my Geek Squad because that’s what I have: I have a lot of smart kids.   And so in that they learn to develop the game, and play the game within the rules as best they can, aggressively but intelligently, and it makes the game so much better.  And you’ll see that all the teams that we’ll be playing have a lot better athletes than we do, there’s no doubt about it.  Now my boys, I’ve had them now for six or seven years, and we won state last year for the first time and now, God-willing, we are going to win our second.  And it’s amazing to see these kids who in the normal environment would be picked on but you see them go on to pitch against better athletes, bigger kids, and not be intimidated any more.  You know they play the game together so well now that that’s the camaraderie that it brings.  But after the game they’re the first to go up to the next team, and bring them, and have them share our food or whatever we have and so that is the culture of rugby that most people don’t even see.  It’s almost impossible to be a great rugby player anywhere in the world and be a bad person.  You don’t find the rugby players in the newspaper, the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh on 9-11 you know that guy was a rugby player, and so those are the kinds of things that you see about rugby players in the news.  It’s amazing and I’m not trying to put down anybody else, but I am just saying that to play the game it takes so much discipline, self-discipline.  In order not to be cheap, you have thirty guys and one referee so you have every opportunity to be cheap if you want to be but if you do, you don’t last because you get paid back and there’s plenty of opportunity to get paid back… So that’s the realms of the game that are so beautiful and that’s what I like because, I tell you what, like I told them in the last practice on Wednesday, I told my kids, my seniors: “If you guys don’t play rugby ever again so be it, but everything that I taught you, take it now into your professional life.  And you know that when you are fighting for the job, or fighting for that grade in college, that nobody’s better than you. If you want something you better be willing to put in the effort the work and then go get it, don’t let anyone intimidate you”.  Making boys into men is exactly what we do.  Now coaching men, I make guys that think they’re men into real men.  If you come on the bench and you play for me, you should see the change in them.  They come in cocky, they come in saying “oh yeah I can do this and everything”, and then when you make them do the effort, and make them see what the game is all about, all of a sudden you see them develop into great citizens you know, so it’s really, really cool.  I have kids coming back to me all the time and saying “you know what coach, I did this and I did that, and thank you very much for what you did” so that is why I keep doing this. 

We’ve taken to thanking the crowd to another level in that most people don’t thank the crowd.  We started that, and we invite the other team to join us in that and now it’s spreading and a lot of teams do that now.  My men’s team actually started doing that and it shows that we leave animosity and everything on that side of the white line.  

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Injuries and Protection

The thing about protective equipment is if you have an injury or if you have had concussions through other sports then you have to protect those certain areas.  You see the people that are protecting like concussions and wearing the strong caps use them differently than somebody just strapping it on and thinking they are covered.  The problem with American Football is that all the protective equipment became weapons and that’s why the concussions started happening.  It’s supposed to be protecting your head and you are leading with it. I mean how stupid is that, I mean seriously, and coaches teach it that way.  The shoulder pads, just because you got a pad on you’re going to hit harder, you know that’s not what it’s made for, it supposed to protect your shoulders.  And they started getting bigger because they became weapons and so in Rugby, body to body, you will survive forever. That’s the way fights are supposed to happen, fights are part of humanity you know, but if you can’t settle them one to one and weapons start coming into action that’s then all of a sudden you take everything out, because it doesn’t matter, in the right situation it doesn’t matter, size, shape form, the person that’s supposed to win is going to win.  In the right situation we all know that, that’s the way life is, right? If somebody is doing something that’s not right, they’re weak in the mind and whoever, I don’t care if they’re small, look at David and Goliath, and it goes back to history.  The guy that’s supposed to win will win.  You have everything God gives you, everything you need to play this game correctly and without having to add anything.

Love for NM and Family

I love New Mexico, I made the US team in 89 and 90 and I got asked to play in Las Vegas and so I moved to Las Vegas for a year and half and I had an opportunity to play in Australia and my home club in Albuquerque was folding at the time so I decided to move back to Albuquerque and bring this team back.  But also being away from my family, I come from a family of 11 and both of my parents are still alive, I’m actually going to go see my mom tomorrow and so I am here coaching now or else I’d be there. My parents now are older in age and they’re tremendous people.  They had 11 kids and now 77 grandchildren and great grandchildren and so it’s amazing.  So New Mexico and being close to my family is everything.  

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Funding

I think naturally we need to be real with the games.  See in rugby all you need is a ball, shorts and boots, so cutting funding is pretty simple, it’s not that expensive.  I think there are sports that need a lot of equipment especially in youth to middle [school], I think any school or government funded programs that require a lot of equipment, I think they can maybe move on to soccer and if they want contact move on to rugby.  You know move on to things that are going to teach them the development that a child needs.  Sports help keep people off the streets, you know, they help parents because; I mean I raised both of my boys by myself since they were 4 and 5; I got a divorce and got full custody.  So I know what keeping them involved does you know, I got great boys but it’s because they were always involved in their church and they were always involved in sports.  So cutting funding completely, just saying that an umbrella that we’re not going cut sports I think that is wrong.  They need to see where they can save money and figure that out. But cutting total sports I don’t think is right. 

Way’s we get funding is through registration, older parents of the kids that went on still donate because they believe in what we’re doing so just like that.  For the season everyone pays $125 and so we are trying to get some funding right now to get some new jerseys because we’ve had these for a while, so we do different things, car washes and stuff like that in the off season, for the regular season we don’t require much.

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Future of Rugby in NM

New Mexico is going to be one of the Mecca’s no doubt about it.  Denver right now is rugby USA.  It started out really big in the east and on the west coast and I think it’s really centralizing right now and New Mexico is really becoming a Mecca of good rugby because of the spirit and the way families are here and how close families are and this is the game, that’s the way the game is.  It’s not about the superstar, it’s not about if you have a brother that became a movie star, not the whole family is focused around him, you know, he still has to go to the family functions you know.  And that’s the way New Mexico is, the spirit of family and God. 

I tell people all the time, you know the thing about it is everybody deserves to try it.  If you start getting older, it’s a really tough game to learn when you are old because of the learning curve.  In March I played in a tournament with both of my boy’s, it was an international tournament with international teams and there’s no other sport where a 52 year old is going to be playing with my 20 year old kids.  One of the teams we played was last year’s national champions so it’s huge but in order to be able to play at that level you have to learn the intricacies of the game you know, the little quirks, because it is a smart man’s game.  It’s amazing when they learn how to play when they’re young, it’s amazing the difference in their game, Mateo is 130 pounds soaking wet and he’ll take down a 300 pounder without a problem and so that’s the way it is.  So I tell people, everybody should try it but it’s a beautiful and hard game to watch, but if you try to see the spirit of the game, it’s a fun game watch.  

Red or Green?

Mostly green but sometimes red, you know I like red on my enchiladas you know (laughing).  Green chile is good, you got to love it, but sometimes christmas too (laughing).  

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