TCU Rugby continues to take down teams as it leaves the 7-player season and approaches its 15-player season. The team’s players are known for being some of the biggest and most aggressive guys in their division, seven’s team coach Toby Teakell said.
But the toughest team member is one you wouldn’t expect.
If you get inside the heads of these players during matches, the strength of 5-year-old Marleigh Lindsay is the driving force behind their motivation to play a little harder.
Marleigh, who has recently battled health issues, is the daughter of the rugby club’s official photographer Jared Lindsay, who first began his relationship with the team three years ago.
Jared, a TCU groundskeeper, was trimming grass near the Tom Brown-Pete Wright Apartments when he saw a rugby ball for the first time. Intrigued, he ran up to former rugby player Jordan Sele, stopped him, and inquired about it.
He soon began taking pictures for fun at games, and eventually his family came along for the ride.
A Family Affair
The Lindsay family, including Marleigh, 3-year-old Jack and 2-year-old Harper, as well as Jared’s wife Lauren, began to cheer the team on regularly.
The rugby players began playing and wrestling with the kids before practice.
During the games, Harper tried to refill the player’s water bottles, Jack ran to lay the cones across the field, and artistic Marleigh made art out of sticks and mud. Teakell said the kids bring energy to the matches.
Lauren started helping head coach Shay Flowers plan events and ceremonies, as well as run errands for the team when needed.
But as the Lindsays’ relationship with the team grew, the player’s learned of the Lindsays’ struggle.
Marleigh would soon have to undergo brain surgery.
In May 2013, Lauren noticed that her daughter’s back had begun to curve much more than before. The next day, X-rays revealed a 38-degree curve in Marleigh’s spine. She was diagnosed with scoliosis.
An MRI of her brain and spine in June meant more bad news for Marleigh. She had a Chiari Malformation (where the bottom part of the brain, the cerebellum, descends out of the skull and crowds the spinal cord) and a severe syrinx (a fluid-filled cyst in the spinal cord), Lauren said. The syrinx takes up the length of her spine.
The month of July consisted of tests, from ultrasounds to genetic testing. From there, Marleigh was cleared for surgery on Aug. 13, during the start of the 2013 TCU rugby club’s season.
“With each test, we kept coming home more scared and more depressed,” Jared said.
Support flooded in from strangers online who kept up the family’s blog Lifeofthelindsays.blogspot.com, to TCU Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Brian Gutierrez, who brought food to the Lindsays’ house after the surgery.
The rugby players learned about Marleigh’s surgery and condition, and started the hashtag #PlayForMarleigh. They used it on Facebook and Twitter in support of the Lindsay family around the time of the surgery.
Marleigh underwent a 6-hour procedure where a portion of her brain covering was removed and a patch put in its place to remove pressure on her spine.
When she returned home just four days after surgery, 12 TCU rugby players came over with TCU rugby t-shirts and a ball signed by all the players.
“When the rugby boys came over, she was running around picking flowers for all the players,” Jared said. “Her love language is giving gifts.”
Marleigh’s courage and positivity inherently changed the team that had grown closer to her, Joe Kizer, the rugby club’s team captain, said.
“She motivated us to push past our limits and put in the extra effort in every match,” he said.
Teakell said Marleigh helped the team see the bigger picture.
“You realize that there’s more people involved in this game, more than just the players, and there’s bigger things to play for other than yourself,” he said.
Teakell said his favorite thing about the Lindsay kids is that they don’t know anything about the sport, yet they still love coming out and supporting a group of guys who have become their close friends.
Just two weeks after surgery, Marleigh was back on the field cheering on the team, Teakell said.
The Journey Ahead
Though Marleigh is through her first extensive surgery, a check-up in February will determine the status of her syrinx and whether or not she will have to undergo more surgery.
Marleigh recently began wearing a Charleston Brace at bedtime. It works by over-correcting the curve so that over time her spine will begin to grow straight, Lauren said.
“The first night we put that on her, I dreaded that more than the brain surgery.” Jared said. “I was confident with the surgeon, but I wasn’t confident about this.”
But Marleigh put her dad’s fears at ease, going into every night without a complaint.
Her mom said Marleigh’s condition is something they will have to monitor until she becomes a teenager.
Kizer said the Lindsay family has had a bigger impact on the team than they could know.
“Marleigh may be 5-years-old, but she’s tougher than anyone on this rugby team,” he said.