We’re excited to continue our new series, “Pioneers of the Pitch,” where we celebrate the groundbreaking athletes, administrators, coaches, referees and fans who’ve left their mark on rugby in the USA. Each installment takes you on a journey through the inspiring stories of rising stars and seasoned legends, both on and off the field. Join us as we shine a light on these exceptional individuals and uncover their tales of dedication, passion, and triumph.
In the ever-evolving landscape of rugby, Jaz Gray has etched her name not only as a formidable player but also as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring athletes. Affectionately known as the “Chief Connection Officer” by her teammates, Jaz’s journey from a fitness enthusiast to a standout in USA 7s is a testament to her unwavering determination and commitment to uplifting those around her.
Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Jaz’s introduction to rugby was an unexpected twist in her athletic journey. A fitness fanatic and co-owner of Results Fitness Gym, she transitioned from basketball to rugby at the age of 24, answering a call from a client to join a club rugby team. Little did she know that this decision would lead her to the USA Women Sevens, where she now excels as a wing.
Jaz’s basketball background, having played four years at Norfolk State University, laid the foundation for her physical prowess and work ethic. After a few years in the fitness industry, a twist of fate propelled her into the world of rugby, where she found her true calling. Despite early losses, Jaz’s resilience and dedication caught the attention of the USA team, marking the beginning of a remarkable journey.
The pinnacle of Jaz’s rugby career includes making her debut in Dubai in 2021 with the fifth-ranked national team. Overcoming setbacks and setbacks, she embarked on tours to England, France, and Spain, leaving an indelible mark with her speed and attacking prowess. Winning a gold medal in Spain and scoring two tries in the final game stand out as proud moments in her career.
Beyond the accolades, Jaz is committed to being a supportive teammate and fostering a positive team culture. Her teammates lovingly bestowed upon her the title of “Chief Connection Officer” for her efforts in organizing activities that bring joy and camaraderie to the team. Recognizing the importance of mental health, Jaz emphasizes lightheartedness and fun amidst the stresses of competition.
Jaz’s advice to aspiring athletes, especially Black girls, is to embrace hard work, take risks, and step out on faith. Her legacy, she hopes, will be remembered as the best teammate—one who supported her peers and had their backs through thick and thin.
As Jaz continues to navigate the rigorous world of rugby, her story serves as an inspiration, reminding everyone to pursue their dreams with resilience, integrity, and a sense of joy. The “Chief Connection Officer” is not just a rugby player; she is a force for positive change in the world of sports.