At first glance, one would not expect Janet Lee (senior) to be one of the most influential women’s rugby players Occidental has had in years. Despite standing barely over five feet tall, Lee has been a standout player on the Occidental women’s rugby team since her sophomore year.
Lee joined the Occidental team after returning from a campaign semester in Miami, where she worked for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
“It was work 24/7 down there, but a really rewarding experience, even if I didn’t get to live the party life most people would expect from a semester in Miami,” Lee said.
The work ethic Lee displayed in her time with the Obama campaign reflects the vigor and discipline with which Lee attacks all aspects of her life, especially rugby. As soon as Lee started playing, she knew she would have to put in extra work to be competitive. Her brother, a former football player, spent winter break her sophomore year teaching her how to tackle and be tackled.
“When I joined rugby, I actually told my brother who was a football player, ‘I need to learn how to tackle to perfection because if I don’t then girls would literally trample over me,'” Lee said. “Getting hit by a guy who’s bigger than you kind of gets you used to just getting tackled, getting hit, and it hurt.”
Lee plays the position of scrum half, standing behind the scrum and directing other players on where to be when the ball is pushed back to her. It is then up to Lee to pass the ball off to put the team in position for a try.
“If you put it in football terms, you could say I’m like the quarterback,” Lee said. “You kind of direct everyone on where to be and what to do.”
In order to develop her skills and make up for what she lacks in physical stature, Lee has gone out of her way to train like an elite athlete and surround herself with the best rugby players around.
Lee has spent her summers playing for the Santa Monica Women’s Rugby Club sevens team, and also attended a week-long camp this past summer at the Olympic training center, where she was coached by Olympic coaches and athletes.
“The entire time I felt like I was with a legitimate Olympic team,” Lee said. “I would see other rugby players, track players, and it was such a great environment getting to eat, breathe and sleep rugby for a week with people who are aspiring to be national players.”
Just like these players, Lee shares aspirations to continue playing rugby beyond the collegiate level. She plans to enter marine corps officer training school and eventually play for their rugby team. In preparation for that challenge, Lee chose to leave the Occidental team this season to play for the Santa Monica Women’s Rugby Club, which ranked sixth in the nation last year in women’s club rugby.
The toughness and dedication Lee displayed in her years with Occidental rugby has left a lasting impression on her teammates. They have not only followed her example, but are understanding, not critical of her decision to leave the Occidental team.
“Janet was both a vocal leader and one who led by example,” Leah Winfrey (sophomore) said. “I’m going to miss Janet’s confidence on the field. She is one of the smallest players on the field but during games I always knew that she would make her tackles and pass her teammates a perfectly placed ball.”
Lee started practicing with the Santa Monica fifteens team just last week, and is not ashamed to admit that she has been anxious about her decision to leave the Occidental team.
“I’m a little nervous about playing with them because at Oxy I can easily be a starting player, but for Santa Monica I know I’ll probably be a substitute for a while,” Lee said. “So I know I’ll be learning a lot and growing as a player just from being around them, and all of them have played over five years of rugby so they really know what they’re doing.”
Although Lee is moving on from Occidental rugby, she is confident that there are players to fill her leadership role. One of those seniors will be Marlys Larson, who plays fullback and scrum half.
“At this point we don’t have anyone else on the team who has a field presence like Janet,” Larson said. “I think going forward it will be important for all members of our leadership to try and fill the void Janet will leave in terms of on-field communication and intensity.”
Though Lee will not be on the pitch with Occidental anymore, she plans on supporting the team from the sidelines whenever she is not busy with the rigorous training schedule demanded by her new team.
Beyond the pitch, Lee’s aspirations are grand; she aims to become a member of the military justice system and fight for gender equality in what she feels is a male-dominated military environment. With that in mind, Lee said that she believes the rigorous experience with the Santa Monica Rugby Club will prepare her for the hardships she expects to face when she joins the military.