USA Rugby Player Phaidra Knight is Ready to Inspire You

Phaidra Knight is an unbelievably powerful combination of brain, brawn, and sweet Southern charm. One of the best female rugby players in the world today, Phaidra has played on the US Women’s Rugby team for 10 years, competed in two World Cups and earned herself a prestigious spot on the World Team. A former lawyer and a current businesswoman as well as a full time athlete, Phaidra is a force to be reckoned with, but sitting down and talking with her in Carlytron’s backyard, she’s the kind of person you feel like you just want to hug and tell all your secrets to. Her personality, she says, changes when she “hits the pitch.” For as aggressive as she plays on the field (she’s a “Flanker” — one of the stereotypically crazy and on edge players who get to tackle a lot), Phaidra is pretty chill off the field.

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Robin Roemer: How did your rugby career start?

Phaidra Knight: I started playing in ’97 at the end of my first year of law school at the University of Wisconsin, training to walk on to the Badgers. I had a year of eligibility left for college ball and I met a lady who was playing and asked me if I wanted to. I’d never heard of rugby or seen it and it was just amazing. I went out to practice the next week and fell in love with it. I’d always wanted to play football as a little girl, and that just wasn’t an option where I grew up.

Phaidra is a force to be reckoned with, but she’s also the kind of person you feel like you just want to hug and tell all your secrets to.

So you know I played. And here we are, twelve years later, still playing!

It’s been incredible for me. I’ve always been a natural-born athlete; that’s where my mentality has always been. I work well with team units, I like being physical, I like training, and so it was just a perfect match for me. So pretty much law school was history at that point. I finished but I’d found my true passion elsewhere.

It’s the one thing in my life that’s really brought me into a full person; the people I’ve discovered, the pathways it’s allowed me to take, my ability to touch and inspire others whose lives I’d never have come across. So it’s been amazing. It’s been everything for me.

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Robin Roemer: Who do you hope to inspire the most? I know you grew up in Georgia, you said there wasn’t really a lot of opportunity there for girls. Who is that one person you feel you want to touch the most?

Phaidra Knight: It’s not really one person; it’s just I want to inspire people who grew up or who are growing up right now in environments where they don’t have a lot of hope, where they can’t see anything but what’s immediately surrounding them. I grew up in a small town on a farm and my parents did allow me to be exposed to a lot of things culturally, as much as my area offered, and they always encouraged me to do things and join clubs at school but obviously there were limitations. If you follow your instinct and just kinda go, you’ll find tons of different worlds out there.

phaidra knight rugby 6You can always discover a new you, and I think that’s probably the biggest influence I’d love to have in the world. You’re never too old to accomplish your dreams, and your exposure’s never so limited that you can’t break out of it.

Robin Roemer: I think what’s really cool about how you got started is that you began playing at law school. You weren’t growing up playing rugby; it seems like you just leaped head first into it.

Phaidra Knight: Yeah, and obviously at that time I didn’t feel the way I feel now. It was difficult while in law school to make an argument for rugby, which took so much of my commitment, time, resources and support. It’s still a hard argument to make, considering that it’s twelve years later and I’m still in debt, trying to be a pioneer along with others in the sport. But I don’t regret it. If I had to do it all again, I’d start up sooner.

Robin Roemer: Talk to me about the different things that you’ve done, because I know that you were in two World Cups and you’ve been on the actual US team for ten years.

Phaidra Knight: Yeah, it’s been a while, and I’m probably closing in on the end of my international playing career within the next 12 to 24 months. I’m training right now in hopes of making the next World Cup team, which is taking place in 2010 in England. So come to England! But I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world, which has probably been the highlight of playing rugby — being exposed to different cultures, playing in different cultures, instantly making all these international friends — it’s been amazing.

My first World Cup was in Barcelona in 2002, and that was pretty amazing. That was the onset of my career, I was about three years old in the international community. Then I had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand as a member of the All-World team. It was a huge honor to play with the top players in the world. Then fast-forward four years to the 2006 World Cup; another amazing experience with a bunch of amazing teams. So, I hope I’ll still play at this next one, but I’m taking it one day at a time and I’ve had an awesome career. I’ve made some accomplishments that I never even thought were possible. It’s cool. It’s great.

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Robin Roemer: And you practiced law for a while?

Phaidra Knight: I did, I practiced law for about four years in the Midwest, but when I got to New York I started down a different path, doing development and development consulting, which is a little bit more conducive to playing rugby. I’m actually working as an independent contractor with a couple of different companies, one being a rugby organization. And that’s obviously where my passion really lies, because I’m helping to bring rugby into NYC schools and hopefully beyond that.

Robin Roemer: How do you balance work, and personal life, and rugby? Is there a trick to it?

Phaidra Knight: There is no balance. They all overlap. (laughs) You know, my days are so erratic because I’m training so much I feel like it would be an injustice to work for someone full-time, salary, because I’m going to need time off, so it makes it difficult. Being sort of self-employed, my schedule just fluctuates all over the place. The only constants I have at this point in my life are Tuesday/Thursday trainings from 8 to 10, and games typically on Sundays. Those are the definite constants I have, and everything else just sort of falls into place around that.

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Robin Roemer: I have some questions from some of our interns and some our team members here! Brooke asked how often you train, which I think you were just talking about.

Phaidra Knight: Well, the Tuesday/Thursday 8-10 is a team training where we practice. Right now, my training schedule is Monday through Friday and the games are on Sunday, I so essentially have one day off during the week, so I probably put in anywhere from 3-4 hours a day. Some days less depending on my energy level, but that’s about the amount I do.

Robin Roemer: That’s crazy. I wanna know how much you can bench? I can bench the bar!

Phaidra: Probably somewhere between 250 and 280?

Robin Roemer: The bar is like 50, right?

Phaidra Knight: 45.

Intern X: She could probably bench press you, Robin.

Robin Roemer: We were discussing that what would be really great is if we got all of Team Autostraddle in a tug-of-war against you. Because we would definitely lose.

I was stalking you online to find out more about you and somewhere it said you like to cook! Do you cook?

Phaidra Knight: I do! I like cooking! And you know, other than the day-to-day, I prepare all my food at home and don’t eat out a lot. It’s healthier. I really enjoy cooking and when I have time to cook I enjoy elaborate cooking. I’m not a great cook but I enjoy it.

I try to stay very disciplined during the week, because my days are so full, busy, and long. It requires a lot of preparatory time. I have my regimen during the week, ’cause my days are so full & busy and it requires prep time. I eat to train and I eat to live. It’s very mechanical. And then on the weekends, if you call it cheating, I allow myself to splurge a little bit.

Robin Roemer: And you were saying you were getting into martial arts?

Phaidra Knight: I’m actually taking some kickboxing/MMA sessions with a good friend of mine, he’s an eighth-degree black belt. We actually just trained before I came here — I love it, it’s amazing and will be a great transition into my next thing after rugby.

It’s definitely something that I could see myself doing if my body’s up to that level, that’s awesome. But at this point it’s a great training tool that translates awesomely into rugby in terms of flexibility, power and endurance. I love watching it and doing it but I don’t have the opportunity to do as much right now with everything else I’ve got going on.

Robin Roemer: So you’re going to become a black belt eventually?

Phaidra Knight: I don’t know; that would require me to specialize. But maybe! Maybe once I’m done with rugby I can work for that.

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Robin Roemer: Do people think you’re intimidating when they learn these things about you? Because in person you’re very warm and easy to talk to, but it seems like on paper you’re very intimidating.

My impression is that people are more intimidated before they know or have spoken to me.

Phaidra Knight: My impression is that people are more intimidated before they know or have spoken to me, and I don’t know if they’re as intimidated when they meet me. The people I spend the most time with are my rugby teammates. They know most things about me and I think because they know me, I’m not threatening. People respect me and I give people a lot of respect, so I think I receive it. That’s cool.

But I think at the surface a lot of people are intimidated, but once they get to know me it goes away.

Robin Roemer: Yeah, I was looking at your various accomplishments – starting rugby, and law school and stuff – and I can see how if someone hasn’t met you and they read all this stuff about you they’d be a little scared. Watch out.

Phaidra Knight: [laughs] Nothing to be afraid of.

Robin Roemer: I have some more questions here from the interns. Jen asks, “You know how sometimes you go to bed, pass out at night with the intention of going to the gym or for a run or whatever in the morning? How do you actually do that? Because when I wake up in the morning, it is a battle between getting up and staying in bed.”

Phaidra Knight: How do I not sleep?

Robin Roemer: Yeah, where does this discipline come from?

Phaidra Knight: You know, growing up – I have to tell you a little bit about growing up. I started tending a farm with my father – he was a small farmer, and my family supported a produce farm. So from age four or five, ever since I was able to walk I was with him. I drove the tractor with him, and do whatever needed to be done. Tended to the livestock; at the time we had pigs, and my grandmother had chickens. So I was always very active and outdoors, and that work ethic just kind of folded in. And we had to help harvest in the summer; that was an eight hour day in the hot summer sun.


Robin Roemer: So you weren’t one of those kids who grew up playing video games.

Phaidra Knight: Noooo. We had three stations! I grew up in a middle class family, and we lived out in the middle of nowhere where my parents still live. We had three channels and no cable. My parents still don’t have DSL, because they still don’t get high speed internet out there. I’ll paint the picture. We had bedtime, my parents were pretty strict but they were open-minded – they still are! The point being, they made us work hard and do a lot of physical labor to teach us an appreciation of higher learning and enrichment. My sister and I, she’s four years older, both went to college and so we’re both in positions, especially now in such horrible economic times, where we can do other things. I think a lot of the work ethic came from that, from the physical labor that most kids these days don’t experience. And so I think that’s what gave me my edge – I mean, sitting down at a desk all day I can’t do. My attention span [snaps her fingers], it’s like that. I’m much better at focusing when I’m using my hands and using my body, and I think a lot of my discipline comes from how I was brought up — and I think part of it is just genetically coded.

Robin Roemer: So there’s no shutting off the alarm for you?

Phaidra Knight: No, I’m literally doing something until my head hits the pillow at night. And as soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m out.

Robin Roemer: So, I want to talk a little bit about the gay issues. You’re out to your team, and professionally. Is it safe to assume rugby is a pretty gay-friendly sport? Have you ever encountered anything unfriendly?

Phaidra Knight: You know, I haven’t. I’ve heard of people who’ve experienced other folks in the community saying some derogatory things, but I think that’s what would happen in any walk of life or subculture. And honestly like any other issue, it’s just discomfort and a kind of ignorance.

But you know when I hear things like that, although it’s disheartening, there’s always hope that you can reach out to someone and change someone just by being around them. I never feel like it’s final when I hear things like that. But it’s definitely raised its head, as has the whole race issue. It’s something that’s there, it’s not huge, and I surround myself with people who don’t think that way or don’t feel that way or who at least are very good at hiding it. It hasn’t been an issue.

Robin Roemer: You’ve said before that you’re very close with your teammates, you’re like family.

Phaidra Knight: We are. And with that goes, like a family, the bad things: you get sick of each other, you argue, you have fights, but in the end of the day that’s your teammate. And like a family member, you always have their back. And like a family, if you didn’t have this bit of dysfunction in there, it wouldn’t be a family.

Robin Roemer: Do you have any questions X?

Intern X: Do you have any pregame meal?

Phaidra Knight: I don’t have one!

Intern X: Or ritual?

Phaidra Knight: I love 80s music, so I find that I play best when I listen to – my favorite song is Oh Sherry by Steve Perry. And there’s a lineup – James Ingram! – like the most mellow lineup you can imagine, but it gets me up, and I love it. But I’m pretty much laid back, because I feel like the more tense you are the harder it is to do your best. And unlike most of my teammates – they’re like, “Get away from me, I need to focus!” I’m just whatever. I don’t really have a routine. As long as I get enough sleep at night, get up and have a very big breakfast, and I have my snacks, I can pretty much take on any situation and I’ll be fine. I need a little time to warm up, but that’s all.

Robin Roemer: What’s next for Rugby and what’s next for Phaidra Knight?
Phaidra Knight: Back in august, rugby was ratified to be added to the Olympics for 2016 and in November, the final vote will take place. Its pretty likely rugby will be added. Rugby is the second most popular sport in the world. I hope to be involved with the sport at that time, maybe in media and television.

There’s a possibility it will be an exhibition sport in the 2012 Olympics. So we’re hoping. I won’t be playing international at that point, but so many I play with and coach will be there.

Robin Roemer: Would you coach at that level?

Phaidra Knight: Not at this level. I’m at the point in my career where I can see phases down the field. That’s something that comes with experience. Its possible. There will be demand for all kinds of opportunities within the sport. The sport itself will change drastically in the next 12 months.

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Robin specializes in entertainment, lifestyle and portrait photography. She's also a Creative Producer, Director of Photography and co-owner of Scheme Machine Studios LLC, her production company based in Los Angeles. Robin loves shooting for TV and film and has worked with media companies like Legendary Pictures and Viacom. She shot and directed the Pride campaign for Google called #ThisIsFamily. Robin has had the pleasure of working on national campaigns for companies like Dove and Levis, and had the unique opportunity to shoot for non-profits and initiatives such as The Black List, Save the Children, Move to End Violence, Have a Hart Day, and The Clinton Global Initiative. She is most proud of the work she has done with organizations such as The Ad Council and RAINN working on national impact campaigns. Her celebrity roster includes Cyndi Lauper, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, The B-52s, Keri Hilson, JB Smoove, Tegan and Sara, Margaret Cho, The B-52’s, Andreja Pejic, and many more. She was there for Autostraddle’s birth and proudly served as A-Camp co-director for many years.

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  1. I love Jen’s question about how to get out of bed in the morning! I think once you get in a routine, it’s easy to do it b/c the rewards are very rewarding, the energy you have and stuff.

    The pictures are amazing and almost make me want to do a bicep curl or something. ALMOST.

    Fantastic interview — an inspiring woman for real! Also in person she is probs top ten coolest easiest to talk to people ever

  2. I played rugby in college (we sucked at the game but were really good at the drinking games) and I’m still close to people I played with back then. Also, if I hadn’t played rugby, it probably would have taken me 4 years longer to come out. So, yay for rugby and yay for Phaidra!

  3. Pingback: Robin Roemer Photography » Blog Archive » Phaidra, USA Rugby

  4. Ok, first of all, thank you so much for this article. As a rugby player, it’s awesome to get this kind of insight into the mind of a professional and also to have some exposure for a sport that really deserves more recognition in the U.S. My life has been changed significantly since joining the team at my college and I hope that Phaidra is successful in spreading programs to schools so that others have the opportunity to get involved and better themselves like I did.

    And second of all, I would KILL for arms like that.

  5. I saw an episode of made on MTV and Phaidra was awesome with the yount girl she worked with. That is actually what made me look her up on the web and I found this article. My daughter always wanted to be a football player as well and I’m going to pass this info along to her she is in her first year of college.

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