A few weeks ago, senior Mayhem back rower and Lake Gibson High School teacher David Ulch was announced as part of the USA Hawks 2017 World Cup 23 man squad to travel to Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in what can only be described as one of the greatest accomplishments of his life to date. The USA are set to face off in Australia against Fiji and Italy while they will travel to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea to take on the co-hosts themselves in what will be the experience of a lifetime. David said “Being selected to represent the United States is an incredible honor and privilege. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to remind me that this is all real. Earning my first cap was a dream come true; something that I never thought I would’ve been able to do after my surgery. Next to being in the United States Marine Corps, being able to wear the red, white and blue on the field against another country is the greatest feeling an American can have”.
A History teacher by day, David is another of the Mayhem’s roster who started out life in the Marines. David spent four years in the Marine Corps and with such comradery and discipline, the transition to Rugby League was an easy one. David joined the Mayhem in their inaugural 2014 season and captained the side in 2015.
David was on the verge of breaking into the USA Hawks side in 2015; as Captain of the Mayhem, coaches and selectors alike identified him as one to watch for upcoming internationals that year until a cruel blow to David’s health meant that he was out of contention for the 2015 internationals and the 2016 Mayhem season. It was debated what would happen with David’s playing career as he struggled himself with some doubts “2015-2016 was a tough couple of years. I had gone through a few life changes including not being able to play rugby. It was tough to swallow that realization and I was in a dark place mentally for a little while. Rugby’s so much more than a sport for many of us. For me it’s a release from the daily grind. The camaraderie created in rugby is something that I haven’t experienced since the Marine Corps; something I’ve always loved and cherished about the sport. As a team, 2015 was a tough year for us as we were slow at picking up wins during the season and losing in the first round of the playoffs. At the end of the season, I was added to the USA Hawks roster but then I was hospitalized due to a heart condition and needed surgery. I tried to come back the following summer but with the large amount of time with no physical activity and recommendations from doctors, I waited to ease my body and heart back into rugby shape over time”.
David returned to Rugby League and the Mayhem in 2017 and hit the ground running. In the inaugural Jacksonville 9’s David took the Mayhems player of the day award and stood head and shoulders above his peers. Being his first hit out in nearly two years Ulch was raring to go once again after a horrific eighteen months. “The first game back at the Jacksonville 9’s was really exciting and motivating. A few months prior I had got myself into a pretty good workout routine and improved my fitness for health purposes. About two months before the Mayhem try-outs I decided to start training hard and do more rugby specific workouts. So when the Jacksonville 9’s came, I felt confident in my fitness level. To be honest, I was more worried about playing hooker (new position) than anything else. Though we didn’t get the results we wanted, I had a blast and it felt like riding a bike again”.
Throughout the 2017 season it was quickly becoming apparent that David was back to his best. A leader on the field with his actions, the Mayhems regular season victory up in Jacksonville once again put him on the radar of the USA Hawks selection panel. The Mayhem fell to the eventual winners the Atlanta Rhinos in the Southern Conference final but not before Ulch had delivered a series of strong performances earning him his first cap along the way. Reflecting on the 2017 season David felt that huge strides had been made within the club “For me personally I had set a goal for myself to play every minute of every game in 2017 barring an injury or not being selected. I felt like I was in good shape for the start of the season but as most rugby players know, as the season progresses you pick up knocks and injuries. I was lucky to come out of the season with minimal injuries and be able to play for the Hawks. 2017 would end up being the best year we’ve ever had as a club. We felt more confident as a club in every game and the boys really showed improvement from the previous seasons. Our imports in Mattie, Kevin, and Brogan brought over a lot of experience and helped improve our Rugby League IQ. Every year we’re getting better, and every year we’re getting closer to that national championship. 2018 should be a fun season”.
When the news broke, Mayhem’s Australian half Matt Cooke was full of praise for his US compatriot and wasn’t surprised at Ulch’s great success “Ulch has been our best and most consistent player this year and was awarded the MVP and Forward of the year for the Mayhem. If there is someone you would want beside you when things got tough on the field then he’s the man you want beside you in the trenches of battle. Most people know Ulch’s fitness work behind the scenes has him leaps and bounds above most players but I believe his willingness to listen and learn the game is his greatest asset that he carries and being under a world class coach for this World Cup squad will send his game to new levels. Hopefully Ulch can bring back that experience and new knowledge and further enhance the style of rugby league at the Mayhem in 2018. I wish him all the best.”
We certainly can’t argue with Matt and we can’t wait to see what David can deliver when he gets his shot at the World Cup!