Jaz Gray during training ahead of the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town, South Africa.
Listen to Jaz Gray, and you might never believe she could be a rugby player.
“I don’t like being outside,” Gray said. “I don’t like getting hit hard. I don’t like grass and mud on me. I don’t really like running for that long.”
Then what brought Gray to the sport and kept her with it long enough to ascend to the U.S. women’s rugby sevens national team?
“It might have been the people,” Gray said. “The people were very nice and welcoming. And just learning something new. The challenge of that was really good for my brain.
“At the time, I was just getting out of basketball. So, it was just like something else to challenge me, which I love.”
Gray had recently graduated from Norfolk State University, where she had played basketball for four years, when the sport found her. The exercise science major was serving an internship at a gym in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, five years ago and one of the members — a rugby player — saw her lifting weights and suggested she try it.
“I didn’t even know what (rugby) was at the time,” Gray said. “I don’t even remember the first practice. Afterwards, I just kept coming back. Eventually, we went and played (a game), and I did pretty well.”
Currently, Gray is in Cape Town, South Africa, with Team USA preparing to play in the Rugby World Cup Sevens that runs Friday through Sunday. The 5-foot-4-inch former college basketball guard is now a wing for the American squad. At age 29, she’s still a relative newcomer to the sport.
“Now, I’m just settling into my role on the team, and just trying to find my groove and gain experience is my big thing now,” Gray said. “So, just getting to go to some of these tournaments and being put into the situations that we train for has been great.”
Gray said that training is quite different than what it was in basketball. She added that in rugby, it’s a matter of “knowing how much you can put on your body, and sometimes less can be more.”
“I’ve been blessed to be healthy for the majority of my time,” she said. “You get banged up. You get dings. But I’ve been blessed so far to just be able to just be in a lot of it and not have to sit out for any serious injuries.”