When one thinks of UMD athletes who have gone on to achieve national prominence, names like Brett Hull, Norm Maciver, Mark Pavelich or Jim Johnson might come to mind. Add to that list Graham Harriman. A former UMD Fighting Penguin, Harriman is now a professional rugby player and member of the U.S. national team. He is an Eden Prairie native who came to UMD with no previous rugby experience. In fact, it took a study abroad trip to Sweden for Harriman to discover the sport and fall in love with it.
“I played a lot of intramurals when I was at UMD, and when I went to Sweden I was looking for a sport to play,” Harriman said. “I heard about the rugby team, went to a few practices, and I just fell in love with the sport.”
Harriman brought that passion back with him when he returned to Duluth the following semester.
“I was riding home from school and went past (UMD’S) field 4 and saw the team practicing,” Harriman said. “I raced back to my house, grabbed my rugby gear and came right back to the field. I ran out there in my Swedish rugby uniform and yelled to them, ‘Hey, I played rugby in Sweden!’ I practiced with them that day and had a blast.”
“For a long time, the team actually thought I was a Swedish foreign exchange student,” he said.
Harriman was a part of a successful Fighting Penguins club. The team made it to the regional final four before losing in the semifinals to Wisconsin-Whitewater in his last season in 2010.
After finishing in Duluth, Harriman went on to play professional rugby with Chicago, and, more recently, with the Metropolis Rugby Club based in Minneapolis. Harriman is an accomplished rugby player regionally, but his national breakthrough came last fall.
“I was invited to play on the U.S. developmental club last year and traveled with them a bit,” Harriman said. “I found out in November that I had made the actual national club after our tryouts while we were in Canada.”
Finding out he had made the top team in the country, the USA Men’s Eagles, was an emotional experience for Harriman.
“It was really awe-inspiring,” he said. “Shocking, awe-inspiring and a little scared too. But I knew I had an amazing opportunity and I had to run with it.”
In his travels across the globe, it’s safe to say he has run with this opportunity so far.
His first national team match action came Nov. 24 last year in Bucharest, Romania, against the Romanian national team. He also saw the pitch against Fiji while the team was competing in Nagoya, Japan. The team concluded its annual tour by playing some matches to try to qualify for the World Cup.
Currently, the Men’s Eagles are on their annual fall tour and have a tough match Nov. 9 in Philadelphia against the traditionally strong New Zealand All Blacks. Harriman, however, hasn’t forgotten his roots in Duluth.
“I still stay in touch with coach (Jeramy) Katchuba and like to work out with the team when I come back to Duluth,” said Harriman, who has also spent time growing the sport at UMD and in Duluth by setting up games at the YMCA and taking kids to Bulldog hockey games. “We just have to keep showing the community that we can do more than win rugby games. We have to stay active in Duluth’s community. I think things are definitely moving in the right direction.”
BY MATT JENNISSEN firstname.lastname@example.org