Phaidra Knight, The Journey and Return of a USA Women’s Rugby Eagle
By Doug Coil & Bryan Cornelis, Rugby Journalists, Real-time Sports
Feb 2, 2015
Phaidra has been described as a Renaissance woman. She is a professional athlete, scholar, lawyer, coach, mentor, television analyst and commentator, businesswoman, philanthropist, advocate, leader and motivational speaker. She is engaging and her spirit is inspiring. Some describe her as intimidating, while once you talk with her this quickly dissipates and mutual respect is established. She is an articulate speaker, as well as a rugby advocate, who gives back to the community through volunteer work and coaching.
Phaidra is originally from Irwinton, Georgia. Growing up, basketball was her sport of choice. She is a graduate of Alabama State University with a dual B.A. Degree in Speech Communications/Political Science. She also holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin School of Law. Phaidra practiced law for 4 years, before moving to New York to play for the New York Rugby Club.
While at Wisconsin in 1997, she was introduced to rugby where her infatuation with the sport was cultivated. By 1999 she became a member of the USA Rugby Women’s National team. She competed in 3 Women’s Rugby World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010). During the first World Cup she played Prop and then transitioned to Flanker in the subsequent World Cups. Over the course of the first two World Cups she was also named to the World Team and had a chance to compete with the team in New Zealand. As if her rugby resume wasn’t already stockpiling accolades, she was honored as USA Rugby Player of the Decade.
In 2009 she achieved US Eagle 7s status. However, just prior to the Women’s Rugby 7s World Cup, she was not selected as a member of the team. This gnawed at her but served as a source of inspiration moving forward.
She quickly turned her attention in 2010 to participating in her third World Cup. After the World Cup Phaidra decided other avenues and challenges needed to be explored. These included both CrossFit and bobsledding. Both assisted in her journey which developed both self-awareness and contributed to her self-development.
With sights turned toward the Olympics, in 2013 she became a member of the US Olympic Women’s Bobsledding Developmental team. Although she did not qualify for the Olympics in Russia, she still gained valuable insights and turned her attention once again to the sport she loves; rugby.
7s Rugby is set to debut at the 2016 Olympics in Rio as a sport with both men’s and women’s sides set to battle it out on the Brazilian pitch. Initially, rugby was played in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 as a Men’s rugby 15s sport. The US is the defending champion.
Al Caravelli, former US Eagles Men’s Rugby 7s Coach, a personal coach of Phaidra’s, tweeted a relevant article, USOC Report: The Formula for Developing Elite Athletes by TJ Buchanan, Dec. 11, 2014. According to this report, “the top two reasons Olympic athletes gave for pursuing elite levels of performance were ‘intrinsic love of activity’ (they liked being active) and love of the sport.” It was the coach’s job to make participating fun. Many athletes played two or more sports earlier before specializing.
Phaidra has enjoyed the competition, the workouts, camaraderie, and still has a burning desire to challenge herself, yet again, by becoming a participant in the 2016 Rio Olympics. With that in mind, she has needed to resculpt her body through training and nutrition. The transition from rugby 15s to 7s requires a faster leaner player. This requires increasing agility while still maintaining physical strength. This requires coaching, diet changes, speed training, as well as quality competitions. This also involves a great deal of personal sacrifice, dedication and cost.
Athletes are turning to crowd funding sources, like Dreamful, to raise money. While Phaidra has maintained a business connection to a gym, being a professional athlete requires financial sacrifice.
Phaidra’s return to rugby 7s took shape this past summer. She played for Old Blue Women’s 7s, where her club finished second nationally. In December she played for an elite team, Stars Rugby 7s, in the Tobago International Rugby Sevens Tournament, with her side prevailing as the eventual winner.
This leads us to the exciting news that while at a tryout at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista (CA), she has been offered and accepted a professional contract with the US Women’s Rugby 7s National team.
What is involved by participating in the Olympic Development Academy? See //usarugby.org/olympic-development-academy
There is optimism that Phaidra may be selected during the 2014-2015 World Rugby Women’s 7s circuit. The next stop is in Brazil (Feb. 7-8 2015). After that is the Atlanta 7s in March before the circuit concludes in May, three tournaments later. The top four Countries automatically qualify for the Olympics, while other qualification avenues are explained here. //usarugby.org/2016-rio-olympics-w
Will Phaidra’s athlete time clock tick long enough to fulfill her dream? We certainly hope so. With the sacrifices that she has already made and continues to make, as well as, her influence as a role model for many young girls and boys alike, this would be a culminating athletic achievement. That does in no way touch the surface of her character. Her determination, self-awareness and empathy for others will make her a success in life and also assisting that discovery for others.