M.S. in Sport Health Science student, Life U Women’s Rugby player

“Always part of a team”


Just a hop, skip and jump away from New Orleans sits Slidell, Louisiana, the cozy home of Madelyn Jennings. Jennings and her sister Gabrielle grew up on a steady stream of sports, with many of their classmates filling out multiple team rosters due to the lack of numbers in their tiny school. Their parents encouraged them “to pursue new sports and try new things.” Gabrielle Jennings is a world-class track athlete currently fighting for a chance to compete in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, her signature event.

When Madelyn Jennings began to truly dig in and find her sport, it was rugby that appealed most to her. October 2021 marked her more serious commitment to rugby, but when you play hard, sometimes injuries do occur. The next summer she sustained an ACL tear during her first 7s tournament. It had to be disheartening, having completed just one full 15s season and then having to transition into recovery. Yet, as she worked tirelessly at her recovery, she stayed connected to the wide world of rugby through following the Rugby ATL teams.

Coach Ryszard Chadwick coached for Rugby ATL at the time in addition to serving as Head Coach of Life University’s (Life U) Women’s Rugby team, so Jennings got to know him as she watched the competitive play of the pathway development team that Rugby ATL hosted. They commonly held U18 clinics for boys, preparing them for higher level and possibly collegiate play. Jennings lamented that they didn’t have any women’s clinic, but it turns out the program was opening its doors to determined females, so she bided her time until it was deemed safe for her to play.

“I went the day after I was cleared for five minutes of contact, and I went and played touch and had a really fun time. I was super scared. I was terrified,” Jennings said.

She remembered with fondness how Coach Chadwick was “very silent” but ended up approaching her to ask her to play for Life U on her second day on the field. Making the decision to play for Life U wasn’t an entirely straightforward one, as she was already enrolled in the Doctorate of Occupational Therapy program at University of Alabama-Birmingham, about to start in a few weeks’ time.

She had about a week to make this huge decision but ultimately felt that the master’s program at Life U would serve as a solid bridge to an eventual Occupational Therapy doctorate, as she felt she needed a bit more schooling before taking that step. In regard to favorite classes and areas of study related to her program, Jennings mentioned enjoying the ability to dig deeper into subjects she touched on in undergrad, such as therapeutic interventions, injury rehabilitation and the impact of ergogenic aids in sports.

As she navigated her academic schedule, Jennings participated in a historic year for Life U Women’s Rugby in her first year of collegiate play. Most notably for this crop of Life U Running Eagles was their gritty victory over rival Lindenwood University to capture the D1 Elite National Championship on April 14, 2024, in Phoenix, Arizona. It was an electrifying upset that ended Lindenwood’s winning streak against Life U in the D1 Elite Championship game.

“I knew that Lindenwood was our rival, and you can always feel that energy when people would talk about it. It was like, oh, this is a big matchup. I’m even getting chills now just thinking about it because it was a crazy game to be in,” Jennings said.

“We realized that when they played us at our home game – that we were beyond ready for them. We could do it. We just had to push ourselves on defense, specifically.”

Taking home the gold with her team in her first year of collegiate rugby play, 15s season, is a high that Jennings hopes the team can cherish and build upon in the upcoming year.

“My hopes for this season – I really want to just push myself. I want to have fun. It’s always fun playing rugby. Rugby is a fun sport. But I really want to push myself physically and a lot more mentally.”