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Five years later . . . Patsy Ford has returned to the Waitaki Wahine this season. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

It has been five years since Patsy Ford last played rugby in New Zealand. The American native chats to Kayla Hodge about what she has been up to since 2017 and how falling in love with rugby again led her back to the Waitaki Wahine.

Q Tell me a bit about your experience when you were here in 2017.

I played with them when they were the North Otago women’s team. It was awesome, the team was a lot of fun and we played pretty well. Kilifi Fangupo was our coach and he was really great. I came out for the whole season last time, whereas this time I kind of came halfway through.

Q What led you to North Otago back then?

In 2016, two of my team-mates, Hannah [Stolba] and Shiloh [Kirsten Shalosky], both came over to play and 2016 was the first year I played WPL [Women’s Premier League] in the United States. The way it worked in the States is, your rugby registration goes from August to August, so for the first time in my life I was looking at not playing a season of rugby, because I’d played at the highest level and you’re not allowed to play down.
So I was like, ‘Well I guess I’m just going to go somewhere that I can play rugby since I can’t play here in the States’. I was actually looking at Canada and then Shiloh said, ‘Why don’t you go to New Zealand?’. The more I thought about it the more I was like, ‘You’re right, I should go to New Zealand’.

Q What have you been doing since you returned to home?

When I came back to the States, I kind of actually fell out of love with rugby for a bit, so I shifted my focus towards work. I worked for Hello Fresh.
I ended up moving back to Ohio, where I’m from originally, and then with my job, they moved me to Chicago. I was living in Chicago when the pandemic hit. I ended up moving back to Ohio. My job was basically sales, so that ended because of Covid. Not long after I got out of rugby, I kept wanting to go back but I didn’t really have the time. My good friend started a rugby podcast, called With You, about women’s rugby. I listened to her first episode, and it just filled my heart and filled my soul and was a great reminder of why I love rugby. I did an episode with her and talked about how I started playing in high school and that really helped spark my interest again.
I floated around and landed in Pittsburgh. That’s when I really set some roots for a little bit and got back into rugby. I play with the Pittsburgh Forge. I could not have picked a better group of women to help me fall back in love with rugby. They’re just the most incredible team I’ve ever been a part of. They’re so warm and welcoming. They have this drive for competition and to be good, but it’s about being good together.
The Forge is really why there’s this reconnection to New Zealand. Our coach [Todd Fabec], I’ve never heard anybody talk about having international players like he has. The way he talked about it made me think about [North Otago Rugby chief executive] Colin [Jackson]. I kind of raised my hand saying, ‘I’m keen to be the person to organise an international programme for us, so we can start getting international players to come play with us’. I reach out to Colin and organised Colleen Carroll [from Colorado] and Lora Matway [from Pittsburgh]. Doing all this I was so jealous, and wanted to go. I was working as an event marketing specialist for a granola bar company, but they dissolved my position in May. When they did that, I’d already bought a ticket to come visit New Zealand for two weeks. I wanted to move my ticket, and jump into the season, so I got it all organised.

Q What’s it been like coming back and playing for the Waitaki Wahine?

It’s a totally different team. Cheyenne [Cunningham] and Chelsea [Seddon] are the only two I played with, and Cheyenne was in high school. It’s funny because I played with her and coached her the last time I was here, because last time I was the women’s development officer for North Otago. Half of the girls on the team I coached in high school, I know a handful.

Q Are you enjoying being back so far?

Oh my gosh, yeah. Honestly that first game — I landed on Wednesday and played on Saturday — I was a wee bit jet-lagged. It was a real smack in the face because the rugby here is just so much more physical than in the States. It was a really good reminder you’re playing rugby in New Zealand again.
It’s been a lot of fun to be back.

Q What do you hope to get out of rugby and the experience of being here this time?

The last time I was here I actually chose not to do [Otago] Spirit, I chose togo back and do WPL. Shortly after getting here this time, I was like, ‘I’ve come all this way again and am I really going to come and not play Spirit again?’. I’m hoping to make it, and for the experience mostly — I get to travel around New Zealand, and play top-level rugby. It would be great to take that experience and that knowledge back home to my team in Pittsburgh as well. It also gives me an opportunity to be around even more incredible athletes and talk to them about who wants an American experience.

Q What do you enjoy about Oamaru and Waitaki?

It’s beautiful. The sunrises — I consider myself a sunrise and sunset aficionado. I’m just excited to explore more of the neighbourhood. I have a list of things. It’s just really nice to be next to the ocean again because I don’t live like that in America.