JAMES IREY – MEET NOLA’S NAVY CORPSMAN AHEAD OF MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Craig Boudreaux
To learn the foundations of James ‘Doc’ Irey’s Rise of Rugby, you have to take yourself all the way back to 2013.
At the time, the NOLA Gold prop was 26 and serving with the US Navy and Marine Corps and had returned to the USA after time spent on duty overseas.
Throughout his career to date, the 35-year-old has been deployed on seven occasions, spending time in North Africa, Asia and the Persian Gulf, performing his role as a US Navy Corpsman.
Nine years ago, Irey was two weeks removed from his most recent deployment, and unbeknown to him was suffering from PTSD. A close friend recognizing that Irey wasn’t himself, prompted an invitation to try out rugby and spend time away from the Norfolk Naval Station.
“I have seen my fair share of engagements, I have lost brothers, I have had to do things I thought I would never have to do,” Irey said.
“Being a medic, your job is to bring everybody back that leaves home with you. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, it is tough in that route, it is tough going into those environments constantly, seeing the downtrodden.
“I have been fortunate, I have never been wounded in action or anything, but I don’t think anyone comes back from that stuff 100%.
“In about 2013, I was working out at the team gym when I was stationed in Virginia, I had been home for two weeks, it was 20:30 and my buddy, he knew I should have been at home, spending time with the missus [Christina].
“He was asking what was going on, called me out a bit and he just told me he was going to see me on the next Tuesday at 18:30 at rugby practice to get these things out of my head.”
THAT TASTE OF RUGBY
In the years that followed his first forays with a rugby ball, Irey has gone on to achieve plenty in rugby.
Representing the Norfolk Blues for five years before his relocation to New Orleans, Louisiana, to serve with the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, the forward was able to represent the Capital Selects and USA Rugby South, and even played against NOLA in 2018 as the Gold prepared for their first Major League Rugby season.
Moving to Louisiana that same year, the 35-year-old would register with New Orleans Rugby Football Club, where he caught the eye of NOLA’s General Manager, Ryan Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald himself is a former US Marine and liked what he saw in Irey, the pair having formed a good relationship over the past three years.
“Rugby has that glorious thing about it, where you get your first taste, and now it is the only thing you want to do,” Irey said.
“Ryan [Fitzgerald, NOLA’s GM] joked that when you are in a gun fight, the rules are; shoot, move and communicate. It sounds an awful lot like the rules on a rugby field if you ask me.
“Being there in a dynamic environment, being forced to make decisions immediately, next to your brothers with a singular focus, it is the closest thing to that in my opinion.
“It’s huge, there’s obviously the physical exercise that is required to do it and the camaraderie and the culture of the boys.
“At NOLA Gold, we have the best team culture of anybody in the league, regardless of what our stat line says.
“The boys here, they’re family, so when I am having my issues, and none of the guys have served, but they have gone through their own stuff and through the back and forth, and having that dude there saying, ‘let’s have a chat’, that’s what you need.”
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND
With two games left of their 2022 season, the Gold will be unable to make the playoffs. Coming up against East Conference leaders, the New England Free Jacks, this Saturday in Massachusetts, this round of fixtures in the calendar will be part of the MLR Military Weekend as part of Memorial Day Weekend.
“For a lot of us, because it is not Veterans Day, it is not fourth of July, it is a day to remember all the guys and girls we have lost overseas to various conflicts,” Irey said.
As it quite naturally will, the penultimate round of the season will rage on, but across the weekend, for the likes of Irey and his GM, their thoughts will largely be elsewhere, thinking of those they have lost over the years.
Noting that although the pair of them will enjoy the federal holiday, Irey is hopeful that alongside a weekend in which plenty enjoy the early summer sun with friends and family, he hopes that some will take the opportunity to learn about the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.
“I just think remembering what it is about, even if it is just a moment by yourself in between hot dogs, playing beer pong, whatever you have going on,” Irey said.
“If you are close, drive by a military cemetery and pay your respects if you have got the time. Google these insane stories of heroes overseas, Google some of these legends that aren’t with us anymore.
“A big thing across the community is the Murph workout. It is names after a former Navy SEAL, Michael Murphy, so and read his story, read what he did, selflessly, for his brothers.
“There is a good saying I hold with me; you die twice, the first time when you actually die, and the next time you die is when people stop talking about you. It [Veterans Day] is kind of our chance to keep them alive.”
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GLENDALE, CO (June 10, 2022) With the 2022 USA Rugby Summer Series
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