I recently returned from a week in Alaska where I was fortunate enough to be part of the Mangatainoka Barbarians Tour to Alaska where we played 2 games of Rugby, coached 300 local kids, went fishing for salmon and halibut, jet boated up the river to view thousand year old glaciers, trekked the local mountains, saw Alaskan wildlife, embraced the local hospitality and most importantly were all inspired by one mans vision and relentless pursuit to achieve his ultimate goal – “to build his field of dreams”.
Justin Green’s original vision to help build Rugby in Alaska and ensure a sustainable future for the sport was inspired while sitting around a pub having a few beers with team mates after a match. He started to draw up a plan, on a now famous napkin, which meant finding a piece of land in the mountains which encapsulated the Alaskan spirit and people. They built a field from scratch on a mountain, constructing a club house and creating enough noise around the globe for people to come and experience Rugby “Alaskan style”.
After walking the local mountains over a series of months and years, the piece of land Justin finally settled on had a 40 foot drop from one end to the other which prompted most of his friends to say you can never play Rugby on a field like that. Justin didn’t have any money or finance but managed to convince the bank to allow him to deposit an initial $1,000 knowing one day he would make enough money to pay back the debt. To his credit, Justin refused to listen to his detractors and embraced the words of his father who always told him you can do anything you put your mind to, and began putting his dream into reality.
It took 5-6 years for Justin to build a company called Alaskan Demolition which he started with team mates. After a short while, through hard work and perseverance, they were able to generate enough revenue to buy their own machinery and equipment which they were then able to use to excavate and start constructing a Rugby field on the side of the mountain. There was a significant lack of soil on site to create a level playing field so Justin called his friends who had local dirt contracting businesses, to transfer thousands of truckloads of excess dirt that they had left over from other jobs. Due to the short summers in Alaska, it took 5 years before the field began to take shape. The added benefit of the demolition business was that it also allowed Justin to salvage materials which would ultimately contribute towards building the now “world class” club house.
Alaskan Rugby started in 1972 so Justin’s first goal was to build a club house which preserved the history of Alaskan Rugby and achieved this by assembling and presenting the jerseys of previous tour groups and local teams. The club house also represented an amazing facility for players, families and friends to drink, eat, laugh, share stories and enjoy each others company after the final whistle.
Upon completion of the field and clubhouse some 15 years after the original napkin was drafted, people started turning up to see what all the fuss was about. Most importantly it stimulated growth of Rugby at youth level with 100 kids enrolling in the first year of operation to learn Rugby and by the second year this figure had reached 400. Club Rugby started benefitting on the back of the success at Youth level with 4 women’s teams and 6 fulltime clubs emerging. Today, Rugby in Alaska is booming all due to this courageous and driven individual and friends.
When we arrived at the Alaskan Rugby Mountain Grounds to help promote Rugby in Alaska, we were lucky enough to experience first hand this truly remarkable facility which eerily resembled Justin’s original napkin drawing. This world class facility and Justin’s inspirational story is attracting international media attention which in turn is promoting the sport of Rugby in Alaska and bringing players, teams, administrators and Rugby fans from around the globe to experience it first hand and help grow the game.
Justin’s goal is to continue to develop the facility with plans in place to build more accommodation on site to attract and house international teams as well as building a skydome which will provide spectacular 360 degree views of the field, surrounding mountains, sleeping lady and downtown Anchorage.
Another one of Justin’s goals is to bring the All Blacks to Alaska and host them at this incredible facility. While some may say it will never happen, it would take a brave man to bet against this highly visionary and motivated individual who has proven the anything is possible with vision, dedication and hard work. I personally have little doubt he will achieve his long term goal.
I cannot recommend highly enough the Alaskan Rugby Mountain Ground experience. For anyone looking to visit Alaska and enjoy the multitude of activities and sights it provides, you have to see this place to believe it.
I had the great opportunity to interview Justin first hand and unearthed some of his tips and trick for achieving goals and his amazing journey to date. You can listen to the podcast here.