Kathy Flores broke barriers as a legendary player and coach. Sadly, Flores died at the age of 66 in October 2021 after a year-long battle with cancer, but her legacy will forever live on in the rugby world.
Flores’ 40-year career in the sport helped bring about some of the most important events of U.S. rugby history. Flores captained the USA Women’s Rugby Team in 1987 and coached the same team from 2003 to 2010. Flores also brought her team to the women’s rugby World Cup in 2006 and 2010.
From 2014 until her death, Flores was the coach of Brown University’s Division I women’s rugby team. During her coaching years, Flores was inducted into the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame in 2016.
Flores was not only a great coach and player, but she helped put U.S. women’s rugby on the map, and even pushed for more support and inclusion for women’s rugby.
“Women have always wanted to be physical, but they haven’t had the opportunity,” Flores told The Associated Press in 2010.
Women’s rugby has constantly been placed on the margins. The 1991 World Cup was organized not by the International Rugby Board, the sport’s governing body, but by four players from the Richmond Women’s Rugby Club in Britain. They had no choice but to set up the whole tournament themselves.
The tournament finally received recognition from the Rugby Board in 2009 and listed the U.S. Women’s National Team as 1991 champions. Though this was a step in the right direction, Flores was still not satisfied with the little recognition the sport received. However, none of this would’ve happened without Flores’ dedication to putting the sport on the map.
“I think the biggest thing with Kathy is she spans several decades of rugby of the 50 year history that we're talking about,” said Board Chair and President of the U.S. Women’s Rugby Foundation Danita Knox. “Her span of that [time] is 40 years of it. So she's very much ingrained in the whole history of our sport.”
As a player, Flores led her team with focus and determination, and as a coach, she was always able to put her team on the map.
“I think one of her true gifts as a coach is that she doesn't always have the best athletes in the most elite athletes in the world,” Knox said. “She tends to attract them, but she can take a mix of players of all different skill levels and still get excellence, and build a program from scratch that all of a sudden is the program to chase.”
After Flores’ passing, the position of women’s rugby coach at Brown, through a donation, was endowed in her name. Flores will always be remembered for her efforts to bring more recognition to women’s rugby in the U.S. and her presence will certainly be missed in the rugby world.