Honoring the sacrifice and supporting families, USA Rugby and TAPS join to commemorate Memorial Day

Mon, May 29, 2023, 5:34 PM
by Calder Cahill.

On Memorial Day, many throughout the rugby community and country as a whole, will commemorate the lives of those lost in service to their country.

A celebratory, but also heartbreaking day that reminds us of not only those fallen in the act of duty, but the surviving families and loved ones. Just under two years ago, a member of the USA Rugby family and United States Marine Corps Veteran, Capt. Kandis Ruiz lost her battle with cancer, survived by her wife, USA Eagle Kittery Wagner Ruiz and daughter Kyliana.

Whether lost in active duty or elsewhere, Kittery and Kyliana join the same heartache and challenges of many families across the country. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, is a national organization for those who have suffered the loss of a military loved one, regardless of the relationship to the family member lost or reason for passing. Founded out of tragedy in 1994, TAPS provides comfort and care to over 100,000 survivors across the country through a variety of free and helpful services. A resource Kittery and Kyliana have since become members, as Kittery continues to support and give back to the sport her and Kandis love so much.

“TAPS has been absolutely amazing!” said Wagner Ruiz, “They have so many resources and are a family. There are people that I’ve met through my time with TAPS that I consider some of my closest friends. We are bound by our losses, but can lean on each other to get through our hardest moments and celebrate our joyous moments as well.”

Kittery and Kandis have committed so much to the game of rugby, both on and off the pitch. Kandis was a strong presence on the pitch, playing for alma mater Texas A&M and winning Women’s Premier League (WPL) Championships with the Glendale Merlins, now Colorado Gray Wolves. Kittery spent over a decade on the USA National Team roster, earning 28 international appearances and has since picked up the baton in coaching and administration, continuing to progress the WPL and women’s rugby here on home soil. Before her passing, Kandis was training to be an Osprey pilot with the USMC and received her wings in November 2020, ultimately achieving the rank of Captain.

When asked about similarities and experiences that exist between the rugby community and community of other service member survivors, Kittery answered, “Yes and No. Once you're in the rugby community you are family. You always have a place to stay and people to depend on. The same can be said for the TAPS family. Once you are part of the TAPS family you are always family. The difference is how you become family. In rugby you are able to choose this path and this family… in TAPS you are thrown together by circumstance. I have an amazing group of widow friends that I have met through this organization. Our paths would not have crossed if not for losing our forever person, but I am so very thankful for them and their unwavering support!”

In 2013, TAPS launched teams4taps – an initiative to create opportunities for TAPS families to come together in honor of their loved one, by partnering with the teams and athletes they used to cheer for together. This program brings survivors together while providing them with opportunities to smile, laugh, and create once in a lifetime moments that celebrate and honor their fallen hero.

“Teams4taps impacts thousands of survivors and provides them with opportunities to celebrate their loved one's life and service,” said TAPS VP of Sports & Entertainment, Diana Hosford, “We are fortunate to work with more than 200 professional and collegiate sports teams, leagues, conferences, and clubs, and we are excited to welcome USA Rugby to the TAPS family.”

TAPS is a nonprofit organization that depends on a grateful nation for support. Visit taps.org/donate to contribute to the healing programs, including teams4taps, that offers survivors of military and veteran loss. And, if you are grieving the loss of a beloved military service member or veteran, TAPS is your home for hope and healing. Visit taps.org or call 800-959-TAPS (8277) to access support and programs awaiting you.