Far from home, 2 Steamboat athletes reunite in the UK
Ironically, it’s a cold Super Bowl Sunday in February when I find myself at my first rugby game. I arrive not quite sure of the rules and leave two hours later even less sure. But that’s OK; I’m there for the experience – and to see Chris Baumann, Steamboat Springs’ only pro rugby player.
A few hours later, the two of us are settled in a box at Coventry’s Sky Dome arena watching yet another sporting event: ice hockey. Ryan Dingle, another one of Steamboat’s pro athletes, is about to face off against Guildford.
It’s one of the greatest days in American sports, and here I am, in England, watching rugby and hockey on Super Bowl Sunday. What are the odds?
Both Dingle and Baumann grew up in Steamboat and now, 20 years later, they find themselves living in close proximity again – about the distance from Steamboat to Craig — only this time they are in the United Kingdom. And it’s sports that brought them here.
While Steamboat does produce a high number of Olympians and professional athletes, most of them are skiers.
“Growing up in Steamboat, if you’re not a skier, then you’re kind of an outsider,” Dingle said, “It’s a pretty big coincidence that two professional athletes from Steamboat who aren’t skiers would find themselves in the same foreign country, living 30 miles apart.”
Both Baumann and Dingle skied occasionally growing up, but their focus was elsewhere. For Dingle, his was on hockey. After playing at the University of Denver, he signed his first professional contract with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and now, more than a decade later, has just finished his third season playing in the U.K.’s top professional league, the Elite Ice Hockey League.
Hockey was a life-long passion of Dingle’s, but Baumann didn’t discover rugby until his first year at the University of Wyoming when he began playing rugby, and his talent blossomed from there.
After stints in Scotland and Australia, and a spot earned on the 2015 U.S. World Cup Rugby team, he, too, found himself with an offer from a team in the U.K., the Leicester Tigers of the English Premiership League.
“Leicester is the most successful team in English rugby,” Baumann said. “It was exciting to be offered a spot.”
Both give credit to their hometown for fostering their love of sports and competition.
“Steamboat is a town that thrives on competition,” Dingle says, “whether that’s ski racing, hockey, soccer, rugby … there are so many opportunities there to play different sports and to really dig in and get good at something, if that’s what you want to do.”
For Baumann, who played rugby in Steamboat for many summers, it was more about the social aspect.
“It’s just fun there,” he said, “so, it kept me enjoying the sport.”
As summer approaches, both athletes are preparing to head back to Steamboat and look forward to playing their respective sports back home. Baumann plans to play in the Cowpie Classic this summer, Steamboat’s rugby tournament.
“For any athlete, after being away all season, it’s always fun to come back home and play,” Dingle said, “especially when your home is Steamboat.”
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Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020