Son of Retired Olympic Ice Hockey Player Takes On Rugby - Collegiate Rugby Championship
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Maxim “Max” Zhitnik spent most of his childhood moving around for his father’s professional hockey career. However, now as a college student the biggest athletic focus in his life has been as a player on Fordham University’s men’s Rugby Football Club. The rising junior will be a member of the school’s debut appearance at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship.

“Last year we struggled in the beginning of the year through our 15s season, but then towards the spring semester we started to pick up. We got a new coach, we started training more often and everything just started looking better. This year our 15s season in the fall was much better than last year. We looked better as a team and then the spring season went really well,’ explained Zhitnik who feels confident about playing in the CRC later this week, despite being new to rugby.

Growing up Max’s father, Alexei, encouraged him to try sports due to the success and life changing opportunities he’d had as a serious Soviet-born athlete. Alexei’s career brought him to two Olympic medals, twice at the National Hockey League All-Star game and numerous other international accolades. At Alexei’s encouragement Max tried everything from tennis to gymnastics, but he never took to ice hockey like his father.

He’s spent time living in Buffalo NY, the Ukraine’s city of Kiev, Russia’s Moscow- giving him a multitude of areas with schools and clubs with a variety of sports teams. As a high school student on Long Island, NY Max focused in on wrestling, but when he started college two years ago he had to give it up because Fordham had no team. Inspired by seeing rugby on television and wishing to continue being an athlete, he decided to try out for rugby his freshmen year.

“I’m glad I wrestled in high school. I wish I played rugby in high school also…but I learned a lot from wrestling that I incorporated into rugby and my everyday life. With wrestling, there’s a lot of commitment- dedication that you need to focus on a lot of things like cutting weight and eating properly. That pushed me. Now I’m committed to rugby, enjoy the sport and don’t want to miss any practices,” explained Max.

The team trains with two coaches two days a week and also has two to three fitness sessions led by a team member that could range from lifting to a running cardio session. Now with the 2017 academic spring semester over, members of the team heading to the CRC are staying local to continue to train until the Philadelphia-based tournament.

Currently the New York City-based team has been the Empire Rugby Conference 7s champions for two consecutive years; the Fordham Rams finished 13-2 overall at its conference tournaments.

“We are incredibly excited to be participating in the Philadelphia Cup Division,” said Fordham’s Director of Rugby, Andrew Gheraldi. “We recently returned from USA Rugby’s tournament, where we took 12th overall and we were disappointed with our performance in Colorado. But we learned some more about our club and are making adjustments to ensure we stay within our systems. If we play our style, we will be successful.”

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