As this three-part series on rugby has uncovered, many of the sport’s players and coaches refer to the seemingly hard-charging and merciless sport as a “brotherhood.” Back in 2010, no one needed that sense of family and camaraderie more than Luke James.
As a child, James moved around a lot. When he was 9 years old, his family settled in the Vancouver area. As a freshman at Prairie High School, James began playing rugby and joined the Explorer Program through the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Two years went by and life shifted again.
“I didn’t really have the best home life growing up. I had certain people looking out for me and I’m grateful for that but I had to be on my own during my junior year in high school,” James said. “Because of issues with my parents splitting up, my mom wanted me to make (another) move and I didn’t feel that was a stable move for me.”
So, he said “goodbye” to his folks and moved in briefly with his older sister, Trish, before she, too, moved out of the area. James proceeded to rotate through a close-knit group of friends until he landed in the home of a family he still cherishes — the Langhams.
Through all the upheaval, James kept playing rugby.
“Rugby kind of found me,” he said. “It’s an aggressive sport and I was able to get my anger out. I am a personal trainer now. I kind of found my heart there and the coaches were amazing.”
Under the direction of Coach John Fletcher, James and the rest of the Prairie Wolf Pack took their state championship match in 2014 — James’ senior year. It was a defining moment for James. He was about to graduate from high school, he’d put his heart and soul into rugby “because it was my family” and the win proved to James that his tough decision to stay in Brush Prairie was worth the ensuing struggles.
Due to some frightening situations growing up, James knew from an early age that he wanted to be a police officer and, since he couldn’t pursue that dream until he turned 21, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after high school.
During his four-year stint, he led a base rugby team to two Japanese Mayor’s Cups in Okinawa, Japan as their captain before being accepted into the All-Marine Rugby Team. In the All-Marines, he played in tournaments that were televised globally, allowing his Prairie High School coach and past teammates to watch with pride as James played against the Fiji rugby team (winners of the 2016 Rio Olympics). He was also invited to play for the All-Marines 15s rugby team against the British Royal Marines.
A civilian once again, James is now a certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist for Snap Fitness in Camas and plays for the Battle Ground Bulls rugby men’s team. He credits rugby with nearly saving his life and says the sport introduced him to a global family.
“Rugby has given me drive and motivation to where I can do better for myself. The community of rugby is so great because I can go anywhere in the world with a pair of rugby boots and they’ll let me play. Regardless of the language barrier, sex, religion, nationality, you can play anywhere in the world,” James said. “When you play with another country or other players that don’t know your language at all, our language is rugby.”
Because of his own experiences growing up, James is passionate about carrying his story to other young people and is actively pursuing a position with the Portland Police Bureau. He said that he regarded officers as big brothers when he was a child and he wants to be that safe haven for kids now that he’s on the other side of his battle.
“My life could have easily turned a whole 180 degrees. The opportunity was definitely there and I fought and fought and fought and refused to give in. Even if you don’t feel like you have anything, you have more than enough to make a success story out of your life,” James said.