We caught up with former Catalina multi-sport athlete Judith Monica Gramajo who was signed to play rugby by the Colorado Gray Wolves of the Women’s Premier League. The 2022 season begins on April 4:
Q: You were a multi-sport athlete in high school. What sports did you play as a child, what sports did you play in high school and which was your favorite?
A: Growing up, I couldn’t stand still so my mom put me in as many activities as she could. There’s literally home videos of me running in circles, by myself, away from the team huddle.
My dad was a pro soccer player in Argentina so that was his sport for me. Soccer was my first love and I played that since I was 5 years old. I was introduced to volleyball in 5th grade by my siblings and in middle school, I played volleyball, basketball and track and field. I found my talent in throwing discus in track and field where I won the Dioceses championships in 8th grade (I went to St. Cyril’s).
Playing sports in high school was a non-negotiable and really the only thing I looked forward to for school. My freshman year I played volleyball, basketball and track; I also played club volleyball throughout the year. In my sophomore and junior year, I added two more sports; In winter season, I played basketball and soccer at the same time and in the spring season I added softball with track and field. When I was 15, I started playing indoor soccer during my off-soccer-seasons and continued club volleyball. When summertime came around, the football coach allowed me to come play and workout with the guys for the summer. Every year he’d ask me to be a football manager but knew my priority was volleyball in the fall.
I loved playing softball because of the people and the culture they created and I regret not playing that sport for a longer time but out of all of the sports I played, soccer was always my passion. I didn’t care about the weather conditions, our resources (or lack of) or the team I was with (girl’s team, coed league, or a pickup game with the guys) I simply enjoyed running with my feet on the ball and the bond it created with my dad. To this day, it’s still our thing. We play pick-up soccer with the old boys around town and I know there’s soccer every day of the week somewhere. It’s nice that after playing so long, to have people text me from every league to play for their team- I still cautiously play to keep me conditioned for rugby.
Q: You graduated from Catalina and did some coaching there. What sports did you do after high school and how did you get into rugby?
A: After high school, it was a hard transition not playing so many sports anymore, maybe because I missed the competitiveness of it, or representing my school. But I do remember at some point, I was starting to get burnt out playing so much and my dad didn’t support me leaving to play soccer in college because he thought it’d be a waste of time for me (since he knew how much it’d take to become a pro soccer player and I agreed); I still have the voicemails of soccer recruiters and I think how different my life could’ve been if I stuck with soccer. But regardless, I never really stopped playing soccer. I continued to play indoor soccer and joined the adult soccer leagues in Tucson after Catalina. During my time at the University of Arizona, I realized I missed playing a sport representing my school. My sister planted the idea of rugby for me and I had absolutely no idea what that was. I looked it up and noticed there was a club UA women’s team so I joined their team my junior year of college.
Q: Tell us about your rugby experiences and how you got noticed by the Women’s Premier League and which team you will be playing for?
A: Honestly, I first joined rugby because I just wanted to make new friends. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After my rookie year, I hated the sport (not the culture or people) and announced my early retirement after our program’s first appearance to the D-I Collegiate Championship Playoffs. I didn’t like how much pain I was purposely putting my body in and I hated having to tackle or get tackled. Rugby people are crazy… But the girls convinced me to come back my senior year. The rugby socials and the senior swag are what kept me going. After I graduated college, I tried to quit again. The same girls convinced me to play for the local women’s team. In 2018, that’s when the game changed for me.
The Tucson local team (Old Pueblo Lightning) women’s coach, Matthew “Swing” DePoint, moved me to the back line. I didn’t even know all 15 positions on the rugby field until I became a Back. I started to run with the ball more, created space and after games, my body felt fresh. I LOVED BEING A BACK. When he suggested I should try out for the Southern-California Rugby Union’s All-Star team and I made the roster, I started to reconsider my love/hate with rugby. In 2019 I was invited to play for the American Rugby Pro Training Center, an Olympic development training center and a pathway for women to higher level rugby.
In 2020 I made the decision to play rugby full-time. Over the past two years, my love for the game and as a player grew. I owe a lot of my success to ARPTC. I was able to connect with coaches and players all over the country and the world. I’ve been fortunate to get many opportunities to play up and my next step in my rugby career is playing in the Women’s Premier League.
I had my eye on San Diego Surfers and New York Rugby. Colorado Gray Wolves came out of the blue but it just felt right. My first ever rugby coach, Adam Dick, who inspired me to become a better rugby player and gave me a chance when I was just a rookie player at Arizona, is now one of the coaches for the Colorado Gray Wolves and it’s been a long time coming for me to play for him again. The support from him throughout the years and the comfortability of knowing I am welcomed to another rugby family, makes me more excited to show the world what I’ve been working on the past two years. I’m so ready to make an impact in the Premier League. A more hopeful reason I chose Colorado is because Denver is also the home base for Team USA which is where I played alongside many of the players; I can see myself being on that team too, and this season is really the first time I can prove it since the pandemic.
Q: Are you going to continue your studies in Colorado and what do you hope to do beyond rugby?
A: Unfortunately, I know my body won’t allow me to play rugby forever but I will forever be involved with the game in one way or another. In December (2021), I received my Teaching English as a Foreign Language to teach English abroad when I get playing contracts overseas. I also completed my World Rugby Coaching certifications to not only professionally grow but make me a better player too; it pays to know the rules of the game when it can determine a win/loss. I put my education career on hold after I received my Master’s in Education Policy in December 2020; most of my studies focused on laws of Arizona Education and my connections with the legislative branch through my research and time at Arizona, have me set up with a promising future in the field. Once I decide to settle down, I’d like to grow the game in the Southwest as a coach or a program director as well as improve Arizona’s education on the legislative side of things. I want to develop youth in both sports and education. I can’t wait to see where my life will be in a couple of years, so this next move for the WPL is only the beginning of many more adventures. I am truly grateful for the opportunity and everything else that lies ahead.
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and he earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater. Contact Andy Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org