Sue Whitwell: Head Coach
Sue Whitwell, Staff Coach for CWRFC, started her rugby career in college the way a lot of women did in the 1990s: completely by accident. A multi-sport high school athlete, she was approached by members of the University of Illinois women's team who, taking no chances, "showed up at my dorm on a bicycle and rode me to practice."
Those future teammates had a good, if random, eye for talent. By her senior year, was a player-coach for a team that qualified for the finals of the National Women's Collegiate Championship in 1996, and was named to the National Women's Collegiate Development Select Side.
After graduation, Sue joined CWRFC and was selected for the CARFU Women's Senior Side and Midwest Women's Senior Side from 1996-1999. She was also a staff coach for the Loyola University women's team from 1997-1999.
Then Sue figured it was time to get serious. Having come to the game by chance, she was now going to immerse herself by design.
She had a teammate who'd married and moved to New Zealand, and decided with another friend that "we were going to learn to play real rugby. When we got to New Zealand, we went to a pay phone and called the coach, who told us where to show up and if we weren't good enough, she'd send us somewhere else."
Sue made the team, and, in fact, was selected for the Provincial Side in a country where there are "touch leagues for 4 and 5 year olds, running around in bare feet." Her immersion in the sport and the culture, she says, made her outlook "change dramatically."
"It's an incredible rugby culture," Sue says, "where you realize quickly that there's no one 'right' way to play. You morph your game to who you have and who you're playing. The idea is to maximize or minimize, and as a result come up with something that the other team isn't doing."
Although physical reasons stopped compelled her to return to the U.S. after 18 months in New Zealand, she says "I loved the game too much to let it go. If I were living in Chicago or Seattle or Timbuktu, I'd still do it."
Sue returned to the United States in 2001, she re-joined CWRFC as a player from 2002-2006 and focused on developing as a coach as well. She was Head Coach for the Northwestern University's women's team from 2001 - 2008, and worked extensively with the Midwest Select Side as well: Midwest Under 21 (Co-Coach - forwards) in 2001, Midwest Under-23 (Camp Coach) in 2001- 2002, CARFU Women's Senior (Co-Coach) from 2002-2005, and Midwest Senior Select Side (Assistant Coach - forwards) in 2005 and 2008. On the national level, Sue was the Assistant Coach - Forwards for the USA Under-23 in 2007 and 2008.
Currently, in addition to her CWRFC duties, she's an Assistant Coach - Forwards for the Midwest Under-23, a position she's held since 2002.
"The game itself is like a physical game of chess," Sue says. "It's so intriguing to figure out - it's constantly changing, constantly challenging, like a moving sudoku game where having someone move her foot 3 degrees to the left will make a big difference. I love the feeling of teaching a skill, and then watching the light bulb come on when it's applied on the field."