When Tess Feury’s twin passions in life merged, she emerged to help save a life.
For me, work is work,” says the Eagles’ star. “Rugby is my outlet.”
That easy relationship changed suddenly one Saturday in October in the 25-year-old’s New Jersey hometown; Tess and her mother, KJ, were there to watch one of her brothers play in the big local derby game.
A day to forget the pandemic trauma for the two nurses instead became a day they will always remember. The picture is still clear, even now.
A lovable, hulking 28-year-old Tongan father, Tevita Bryce, kicking a ball to touch and then collapsing, with almost oddly comic grace, to his knees.
And then the picture blurs as instinct kicks in; Tevita’s wife, screaming, “He’s dead!” Then KJ and Tess, alternating with the heels of their healing hands.
Thirty compressions. Two breaths. One second. Thirty compressions. And on and on.
KJ is the only non-rugby player in her family, but she does everything else; as president of NJ Rugby, she insisted on defibrillators being available at all grounds.
Its arrival moments later prompts to deliver a shock; Tevita momentarily gulped air, his pulse regained, the 200 or so onlookers gasped.
But Tess and her mom knew the difference between a breath and life. Another lapse; more CPR; the sirens of an ambulance signalling distress without immediate end.
Tevita would ultimately survive, but everyone moved on in different ways from that day.
For her part, Tess was bound for a first international camp in some two and a half years, with Canada and Ireland her ports of call.
Little did she know then that the visit to Dublin would eventually see her returning, sitting now beneath sun-streamed Sandymount Green, recounting those dizzying few months. Time has allowed perspective to seep through.
“That day, my two passions came together on a rugby field,” she says now, in between AIL games at Railway Union, where she is honing her prep for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
“Everything I was working for, and driving for, came together and it as an honour to be able to use my skills and help somebody.
“He’s (Tevita) doing well, and it’s great to get the updates every now and then. It makes me feel really good. It’s an unexpected life-long friendship now.
“It very much affected me. Straight into the tour and that first week, I’ll be honest, I was a little off and I had to confide in teammates.
“We had no idea if Tevita was going to recover. I was grateful to have support around me.
“It is important as a caregiver to take care of yourself as well. Often that goes unnoticed. Working hard in camp helped me.
“And my dad kept reminding me that I had saved a life and not to worry about selection.”
Some chance, for Feury is immune to indifference.
“I have two sides,” she smiles. “I can be really physical on the field but have the empathy off it. I’m ultra-competitive.
“I put my game face on, but the moment it’s over, you’re friends with your opponents. I’m ambitious in everything. When I commit, I do it 100pc. Full head and heart.
“And so I didn’t want to just play for the USA, I then wanted to play in a World Cup, and then I wanted to win a World Cup. And it’s the same for me in nursing.
“One of the biggest things to get me through all the stresses and sacrifices is being rewarded for selection, it’s the ‘Why?’ of getting up at six in the morning or travelling halfway around the world. And I got selected, which proved its own point.
“I can see the positives of it, we’ve all moved on. Coming from the pandemic, which was so stressful, being surrounded by so many hard things in hospital.
“But that was work and rugby is my outlet. You do your hobby to forget about work when death is ever-present.
“But suddenly they’re both colliding and that makes it tougher, dealing with possible death when you’re supposed to be at play.”
She is well-bred for both her passions; dad Mike established rugby in Morristown, about three hours north of the Big Apple; his two boys, Jake and Blaze, followed his example.
And Tess did so, too, knowing she could follow her mom’s path. She first picked up a ball aged four and has been in a hurry ever since.
An All-American high-school standout for three successive years, while also being a talented sprinter and varsity soccer player, she debuted for the US as a 20-year-old and featured on the side that reached the 2017 World Cup semis.
Nursing took her to Penn State and, recently, a life on the frontline fighting pandemic.
Rugby has taken her everywhere. And now, Dublin is the centre of her universe.
A few weeks after helping to save Tevita’s life, her side lost to an inspired Cíara Griffin-led Ireland in the RDS, just as she was deciding where to plan her World Cup build-up.
Ireland seemed to be the place; she opened talks with Railway Union, and although there were opportunities in Spain and England, she reckoned if she couldn’t beat the Irish, why not join them?
“And we have Irish links too, going way back down the centuries,” she says. Rabbit-hole research, indeed, locates antecedents from Glin, near Limerick, hard by Feury’s Hill. A blade of its grass sits atop the family mantel.
Born two days shy of St Patrick’s Day, Irish culture always occupied her youth; Irish women’s rugby’s ills in 2021 did not faze her.
“I didn’t really worry about the off-field stuff, I see what is happening on the field and that’s all that matters to me. We’d had Americans here before and I’d heard nothing but good things and it’s exceeded expectations. The stars have aligned.
“We’ve two wins, a loss, and after this week, revenge against Blackrock is in our sights now. That was an intense physical battle.
“The girls took the loss pretty hard, but it has fuelled us for the second half of the season. It’s the kick we needed.
“Everyone’s accountable. They don’t care where I come from. If you do something wrong, they’ll tell you. I like that.”
The World Cup is her chief focus in 2022, but if 2021 taught her anything, it’s the appreciation that the game of life is far more important.