Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Barbarian takes Flight


A Barbarian takes Flight 

Charles Ajarrista is on the move, ever upward. The flyhalf, late of the USA Rugby Men’s Division-2 National Champion, Denver Barbarians RFC, the talismanic standoff has set his sights on the next level: a spot on Major League Rugby powerhouse Glendale Raptors roster.

Clearance form
A Toulouse, France native who came to the United States moving to Little Rock, Arkansas his senior year in high school. He played one match with the Little Rock High School side before rising to the pivot on the Little Rock men’s XV. Then it was on to University of Arkansas, Fayetteville where he was called, “Frenchy”, and earned most valuable player attributes in his freshman and senior years. 

A brace of happy halfbacks: Ajarrista and scrumhalf, Carmine Hernandez, post national championship victory: Hernandez played with a broken hand!

The formidable flyhalf came to Denver Barbarians shortly after graduating Fayetteville, and in the way of rugby, his nickname became, “Chuck, or Chucky... Chucky Fresh if things go well.” However, his initial campaign with the current, reigning national titlists began in less than remarkable fashion as, “I tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) twice, once in April 2015 and then tore it again in February 2016, “which put his rugby journey on seemingly interminable hold. Ajarrista continues, “It taught me to respect my injury and the rehab process. I took a full year off after the second tear, really focused on getting strong and healthy. I've been able to play every game from spring 2017 since.” – coincidentally the beginning of the Barbos national championship run: ed.
A lengthy and exhausting trip that ended with a loss of baggage left Ajarrista with a yellow onesy, a glass of beer and a large inflatable duck: Charles knew just what to do...

Ajarrista was of integral importance to the Barbarians national title effort, accounting for 133 of 564 Denver points, or just under 25% of the Denver numbers haul. This included grounding the 78th minute score in Park City to draw level Haggis, and then coolly converting that goal for the comeback result, 26-24. Ajarrista considers last season’s title to be, “my best rugby moment so far.”

Ajarrista, center, is flanked by mates, Victoria Muth and Michael Pisney, on the left and Logan Collins and Brendan Shea on the right
Ajarrista hails from a sports-minded core. He’s the second of five children. “We have a very active family. My brothers played rugby when they were younger and we lived in England. Now they stay active by running, biking and surfing. We all ski very well and my youngest brother excels at all extreme sports, (such as) mountain biking and skateboarding.” Ajarrista attributes his siblings’ athletic proclivities to the example set by his parents, “who are the leaders of our active lifestyle. They run marathons and compete in half-ironmen competitions as well.”

The earnest and authentic strings-puller (when on the pitch) reckons the connection to his roots strong and, “We try to go back (to Europe) every summer. We have a family house in the south of France, near St-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque region (on the Bay of Biscay). I spent all my summers growing up there and get back once a year to see all the family.”

Though rugby is ever his primary recreation, Ajarrista never limited himself to action on the paddock. “I played every sport I could growing up while still playing rugby as my number one sport. I grew up playing soccer, surfing, swimming, running cross country and tennis,” he informs.

The 10 shirt has always been Ajarrista’s garment of preference, but not always: “When I travelled abroad in Spain, I played for Bernard Charreyre (2003 World Cup Coach for Romania). He started me at 15 (fullback) and thought that is where I should be playing.” However, “since 2008 I’ve played flyhalf.” Over the past decade, Ajarrista has developed into a formidable force in that slot. The 10’s skill set is manifold: his angular form lends itself to the ghost step wherein he seems to vanish from congestion and reappear in space as if a preternatural effect were on hand; he is an adept and adroit ball handler with fluid distribution skills, plenty of flair, and like those whom he considers primary rugby influences, Jonny Wilkinson and Carlos Spencer, Ajarrista can get his side out of jail with 50, 60, 70 meter clearances; like Wilkinson and Spencer, he does not shy away from contact either whether on the burst through and over opponents or in comprehensive containment of backrow forwards bent on obtaining the open field; and if it’s a sticksplitter the team needs, Ajarrista’s the man for that as well, driving two- and three-pointers through the uprights from all over the park.
His best moment in rugby, thus far, Ajarrista reckons is most definitely, “winning the MD-2 National Championship with the Barbos,” and his most valuable teammate on that significant XV, “Logan Collins,” whom he considers, “a leader on and off the field. (Logan)… puts his body on the line in every game.”
Collins, himself a longtime significant force on the regional as well as the national scene, is currently Barbarians president as well as effective functionary in the national champions back row, and he reports: “Charles is great player with a lot of promise for the rest of his rugby career. His defense is stronger than you would typically see from the 10 position and his understanding of the game allows him to be a distributor on attack and a running threat when needed. “

Stoic and steadfast in the face of meteorological adversity
Ajarrista is presently observing his Barbarians play from the sidelines as he is hard at preparations for a trial with Major League Rugby’s professional franchise, Glendale Raptors: “That’s the idea! I’d love to get more experience and challenge myself at a higher level to see if I have what it takes.”

Beyond Rugby

Short term, Ajarrista intends on upping his game: “I'd like to make the MLR squad for Glendale this fall and challenge at the highest level.” He is hard at that target, “training at Alpha Athlete in Wheat Ridge under Malcolm Havens Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It is not a CrossFit gym, more of an athlete development gym.”

 Outside of our game, Ajarrista enjoys, “travelling, cooking and hosting... I just purchased my first home, so working on making it a better place definitely is time consuming as well!”

Like any true rugby enthusiast, his plans after retirement from play include rugby as in, “developing grass roots rugby. I've been coaching the Denver Lions TRY rugby team u13-u16 for the past four years. I now see players entering high school that I've coached, so that's exciting. I want to keep giving young kids an opportunity to start playing rugby early on like I did. This is an amazing sport and culture and I think it has the chance of becoming a major sport in the US.”

The next few months will be an extremely lively time for Ajarrista as he prepares to take the next steps in his rugby journey, and though his goal in attaining the Raptors side is the 10 jersey, we think he’s a lock!

1 comment:

  1. What a phenomenally written article! This guy sounds like some player!