From the Ruck to the Run: Star Rugger Knight Sets Sights on Bobsled World

Jerry MilaniContributor IApril 10, 2013

GUILDFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  Phaidra Knight of the USA is tackled Claire Molloy of Ireland during the IRB 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup 5th place semi final match between Ireland and the USA at Surrey Sports Park on September 1, 2010 in Guildford, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

With accomplishments like All-World, USA Rugby Player of the Decade, dual B.A. degrees (magna cum laude) and a law school degree already in place, it might seem that, at 38, Phaidra Knight would be ready to move on to the next phase of her life.

Put a brake on that thought.

Knight, in many ways the face of the sport of rugby as it reached an important milestone in being added to the 2016 Olympic Games, has her eyes on competing on the world's biggest stage. But rather than a grassy pitch in Brazil, it's on an icy track in Russia where the Georgia native looks to go for gold.

"The Olympics is the pinnacle of sport," Knight, who has starred on the USA Women's National 15s and 7s rugby teams, told Bleacher Report by telephone from New York. "In light of the fact that I am 38, and it goes against most notions that you shouldn't be able to go faster at an older age, I'm taking the opportunity to challenge myself to be better."

"Better" will be a tough task for Knight, who earned dual bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Speech Communications at Alabama State University before she went on to study law at the University of Wisconsin.

And just as her studies weren’t limited to one field, her athleticism isn’t confined to one sport. She has also competed on the regional level in the CrossFit Games.

Pick your comparison: Knight has been the Michael Jordan, the Derek Jeter, the Tom Brady, the Sidney Crosby of rugby, even picked to be the one interviewed by Al Roker on "Today" in 2009 to announce rugby's return to the Olympic Games.  And, now, a new challenge: making the U.S. bobsled team as brakeman next year in Sochi.

Bobsled has been a route to the Olympics for athletes who succeeded in other sports in the past, with mixed results.

Vonetta Flowers, seven-time NCAA track and field All-American at UAB, won a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. But Herschel Walker and Edwin Moses are among those who couldn't achieve the same success, and Lolo Jones, who failed to medal in track at the last Olympics, is now giving bobsled a run. None of this phases Knight, who sees similarity in the skill sets needed for rugby and bobsled, if not necessarily the focus of training.

"Power and explosiveness are key in both sports," she noted.  "A really good rugby player is strong and it's not a bad idea to be fast on the rugby pitch, carrying the ball or on the chase. Speed endurance is more of a factor in rugby—playing for 80 minutes at a time."

Knight sees another important connection between the two sports in the type of "blue collar" athlete that both attract.

"In rugby, club players arrange their own tournaments and games, players tape each other up, teams come with their own doctors; they are very resourceful in that respect," she explained. "In bobsled, the athletes take care of their sleds, put the three- or four-hundred-pound sled on the track. The sports align very much that way."

There's another way in which sports like rugby and bobsled align: cost of training. Knight wants to take her best shot, which means full-time training with the best coaches, which can be a major strain. With that in mind, Knight created the toRUSSIAwithLOVE campaign through Indiegogo, a nontraditional source of crowd fundraising to help her achieve her dream, as well as inspire others.

"[Fundraising] is the biggest goal in the immediate sense, but the second is to serve as a vehicle to echo who I am, what I am about," she added. "It is a vehicle for branding, being a voice for rugby, a voice for hope."

Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.