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The Dartmouth
May 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Senior Spotlight: Q&A with women’s rugby standout Lilly Durbin ’21

Durbin, who received the Agnes Kurtz Award for her dedication to furthering women’s sports, discussed returning to the pitch after multiple surgeries to help lead the Big Green to a fall national title.


Lilly Durbin ’21, who recently won Dartmouth Athletics’ Agnes Kurtz Award, is a fifth-year senior on the women’s rugby team and led her team to a national championship this past fall. Durbin has overcome numerous physical challenges that have kept her from playing rugby — after knee surgery and heart surgery in 2019, she returned strong to lead the Big Green with 15 tries this fall, contributing to their national championship win. The Dartmouth sat down with Durbin to discuss her experience playing rugby, career highlights and advice for her freshman year self.

How did you choose Dartmouth and Dartmouth rugby?

LD: I was actually on a recruiting visit to Harvard University, and the Dartmouth team was there playing against Harvard. After the game, I was talking to some of the girls I knew who were on the Dartmouth team, and they asked what I was doing there. They said, “you should come to Dartmouth to visit!” The next weekend, miraculously I came and visited Dartmouth and when I got here, they took me to the library and the whole team was studying together. It just seemed like the girls had a great community. I had also never seen facilities and fields for a rugby team before. For me, it was mostly the community and support I felt. 

How did you get started in rugby?

LD: I’ve played rugby since seventh grade. It’s a funny story —my sister played and after watching her, I wanted to try it. She started because our irrigation guy at home was the rugby coach, and all her best friends ended up being on the high school team. It was actually a similar thing to why I chose Dartmouth — just the community my sister was a part of in high school made me want to try it. And then after my first practice, I fell in love with it. It’s the people who have kept me loving rugby over the years.

What are the highlights from your college career?

LD: This fall was the first time I’ve played rugby again since my freshman spring when I tore my ACL. So it was the first time I had played in about 4 years. My very first game in the fall, I couldn’t control it but I just started bawling. I was so overwhelmed by happiness. And my coach, Stacey Bridges, she is not the type of person to cry at all — she is usually pretty serious. We were both just crying and embracing each other in this really special hug. It was one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me — I felt so supported by Bridges.

How has the rugby team shaped your Dartmouth experience?

LD: My teammates are definitely all of my best friends, and I know those friendships will go way beyond Dartmouth. My Dartmouth rugby career has been a little different than most people’s. While I have wanted to play every season, I haven’t been able to because of my various medical issues. Through it all, my team has been so overwhelmingly supportive. Whenever I first got sick, our trainer Yuri Fujioka was there with me in the hospital and was there with me the whole time. She came every day. My coaches came to the hospital every day, and I had several teammates come every day. When I was home, the team sent me a picture of everyone and everyone wrote me an individual note. I opened it and started crying — and I am not a big crier. They’ve always been really supportive. 

If you could tell your freshman self something to make the tough times easier, what would it be?

LD: Even before the national championship game this fall, I said, “let’s play this game as if it’s our last game, you never know when you will have to come off, let’s play as well as we can.” And while I said that, I think looking back, there is always the thought that I could’ve done more. If I could go back and tell my freshman self anything, I would say first of all to just be grateful for every moment with rugby, even if that’s going to lift at seven in the morning or doing sprints at practice. Also, once you’re on the field, play your heart out every single minute because you really don’t know when it’s your last game. It’s ironic because I did say that before the national championship and that has been my last game and might be my last game ever. But afterwards I still think I could’ve done more, so give it 100%. Don’t leave the field with any regrets.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.