From Soccer Fields to Rugby Pitches: Shelby Lin’s Unique Journey

We’re excited to continue our series, “Pioneers of the Pitch,” where we celebrate the groundbreaking athletes, administrators, coaches, referees, and fans making 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. Whether honoring their contributions during their lifetime or posthumously, we shine a light on these exceptional individuals and uncover their tales of dedication, passion, and triumph.

Shelby Lin, a name synonymous with dedication and versatility, has carved a remarkable path in the world of rugby. Born in Mountain View, CA, Shelby’s athletic journey began at the tender age of five when her family was living in San Antonio, TX, with soccer being her initial foray into sports. Her early years were marked by a blend of sports and traditional suburban activities, including violin lessons and school clubs. However, her true passion for sports was heavily influenced by her family’s admiration for Asian American figure skater Michelle Kwan and the San Antonio Spurs during their time in Texas.

Shelby’s journey to rugby was a gradual evolution, rooted in a childhood filled with sports and athletic role models. Her family’s admiration for Michelle Kwan inspired her early love for sports, while her parents’ support in soccer provided a strong foundation. “My parents always supported me playing soccer because it kept me busy and I had a lot of fun,” Shelby reminisces. Eventually, this passion led her to discover rugby, where she has made significant strides.

Her training regimen is rigorous, involving 3-4 gym days, 1-2 speed or agility sessions, and 1-2 field sessions per week. Shelby’s commitment to maintaining her physical and mental fitness is evident. “I am known for being a bit intense about recovery and modifying my environment for performance,” she shares, highlighting her focus on sleep, minimal blue-light exposure, and careful caffeine consumption. Mentally, Shelby emphasizes journaling, focusing on controllables, and remembering her love for the game as key strategies.

One of Shelby’s biggest challenges has been growing her confidence as a rugby player. She recalls the importance of learning to trust her own judgment. The COVID-19 pandemic was a turning point, as she worked with mental skills coach Lorenzo Beltrame to develop habits and mechanisms to build confidence.

Shelby’s career is dotted with memorable moments, including two Women’s Premier League (WPL) Championships—2017 with New York and 2022 with the All Blues. A particularly adventurous stint was playing in the BC Premier League in Canada in 2021. “I reached out to a team, and a few weeks later, I was in an AirBnB with my dog and a teammate, playing rugby again. It was really fun to play in a new environment, style, and culture,” she recalls fondly.

Balancing her athletic pursuits with other aspects of her life, such as work and social activities, Shelby credits her remote jobs and the supportive rugby community in the Bay Area. Injuries, she treats as opportunities to reset and take stock, always reminding herself of her love for her team and the game.

Shelby’s advice to young athletes is to “love the game as a fan” and to “keep doing what you’re great at and don’t be afraid to break the mold.” She believes that trailblazers who stretch the traditional roles in rugby are the ones who truly advance the game.

Looking ahead, Shelby envisions a bright future for US women’s rugby and hopes to continue contributing to its development. “I hope we can get back to being one of the most competitive rugby nations in the world, but that’s going to take time and a real transformation of how we develop players,” she asserts.

As Shelby approaches the later stages of her playing career, her goal remains to play the best rugby she can. After rugby, she plans to delve into her other hobbies, like windsurfing and wing-foiling, but she also foresees staying involved in rugby in some capacity.

Shelby Lin’s journey is a testament to her passion, resilience, and determination. Her story is not just about personal achievements but also about inspiring the next generation of rugby players to break the mold and push the boundaries of what’s possible in the sport.

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