A perennial Team USA Eagle, Phaidra Knight is one of the most recognized names in women’s rugby. Today, she chats with Team USA star Kitt Wagner, who has relocated to Glendale, CO, from Boston recently.
PK: Kitt, it’s so good to download a bit with you. Thanks for making the time for me!
Kitt: Anytime, Phaidra. I always have time for you.
PK: Where did you grow up and what sports did you play?
Kitt: I grew up on a sheep farm in Fort Collins, Colorado. I was a farm girl and an aspiring violinist. I played soccer, basketball and softball through high school but wasn’t much of an athlete; it wasn’t until rugby that I found my niche. Possibly because I fouled out of most of my basketball games and received numerous yellow cards in soccer… guess I needed to play a contact sport.
PK: Let’s talk about what we all live for… When did you first start playing rugby?
Kitt: I started goofing around with rugby my senior year of high school but never played a game until I joined the team at Colorado State University. I started at outside center. Second half they had moved me to prop (I guess I followed the ball too much and wanted to be in every ruck). I haven’t been in the double digits since -except for one game with Beantown when they put me at wing, yikes.
PK: At what point did you decide that you wanted to up the intensity to give a run for the USA Team?
Kitt: My sophomore year of college, playing for a women’s club team (Morris Women), I started to get looked at to play at the territorial level. I loved the competition and comradery that came with that level of play and knew at that point that I wanted to go as far as I could. My goal was to earn one cap. I wanted to know what it felt like to represent my country, to step on the field wearing the red, white, and blue. After I graduated, I knew that in order to reach my goal I was going to need to play for one of the best women’s teams in the country. I chose Beantown and had some of the best rugby years of my life!!!
PK: Would you say the journey to becoming an Eagle one of the hardest challenges in your life? Has it been worth the blood, sweat and tears?
Kitt: THE MOST CHALLENGING ENDEAVOUR I HAVE EVER EMBARKED ON AND MORE THAN WORTH IT!! I guess I need to give you some background on my USA Rugby career.
PK: That would be awesome!
Kitt: My first camp was a 7s camp (Emil Signe’s last USA camp). After that I bounced back and forth between 15s camps and 7s camps, never quite making the cut. I wasn’t fast enough for 7s and never big enough to play 15s (I was trying to play flanker). I never gave up, though, and worked out constantly and on my rugby skills. Finally, it all paid off! I made the USA 7s team competing in the USA 7s Invitational in San Diego in February 2008. My FIRST CAP, but I wanted more. I competed internationally only in 7s for the next year and was among an elite group of 20 women vying for a spot on the World Cup squad. I made the USA-A team in the 2009 USA Invitational in San Diego. At some point during that amazing 7s adventure the USA 15s coach, Kathy Flores, approached me about coming back to 15s (as a hooker) after 7s. I was not part of the final selection for the 2009 7s Women’s World Cup, so my journey back to 15s began. I went to the USA developmental 15s camp and told that I needed to put on 20lbs of muscle. By August I had done exactly that and got to play my first international 15s test match against South Africa. After that, I never looked back. All I wanted to do was to play in the 2010 World Cup, represent my country and all the other women out there that would love to step on that field. The journey to the World Cup was filled with hours and hours in the gym, hours on the field, hours in front of video. It was all worth it when I heard Kathy Flores tell me I made the World Cup squad. I am pretty sure my response was, “REALLY?!” Every time I step onto the field in a USA jersey and sing the national anthem with my teammates I KNOW that it has been worth it.
PK: Kitt, that’s awesome. I really admire your humility.
Kitt: (Blushing smile!)
PK: Okay, enough of the sentimental! How many times is it possible to break one’s nose and still remain good-looking? How have you co-workers reacted to the black eyes and temporary disfigurements of your face?
Kitt: I think that I should take this as a compliment, since you know as well as I do that every year I seem to break my nose or split my face open. Someday I will stop leading with my head. I have had over 60 stitches in my face alone from rugby injuries, and honestly can’t count how many times I’ve broken my nose. Two injuries stick out as both serious and funny:
The first happened when I was 21. I was playing sweeper on my 7s team and I didn’t think I was fast enough to catch (Tyshawn Henry), who was taking the corner on me. So I decided it was a good idea to attempt a dive tackle and swipe her back foot. WELL, turns out I was faster than I thought; when I dove my nose collided with the back of her cleat. I got up with a really bloody nose and promptly asked for tampons to stuff in it so that I could continue playing. The medic said that I was going to need stitches (for what I had no clue) so I asked for super glue for a quick fix. It was at this point that I caught a glimpse of my reflection. The part of my nose between my nostrils was completely hanging off and needed to be stitched back on. Needless to say, I was not going back into that game. Twenty plus stitches later and some pain killers for my broken nose and I was good as new.
The second memorable head wound was last fall playing for Beantown against Berkeley. The game had literally just started and it was the first scrum. I was playing 7 and came up hard to tackle the 8 who was bobbling the ball. Our #9 had the same thought and we collided heads splitting mine open right on my eyebrow. I left the game to get it patched up so I could play – again super glue! I went back in and hit one ruck and blood started pouring down my face. The ref told me I couldn’t come back. At the hospital the doctor could see all the way down to my skull. 40+ stitches later I headed back to the field but the game was over. To this day I don’t have complete feeling above my eyebrow because of the nerves that were severed in that hit. At work, I am a high school teacher; my students love it when I come in with bruises, they think I look so tough. I work with a few other ruggers and they all understand when I come in with bruises or have a hitch in my get-along.
PK: I have had the honor of playing with you at both the All-Star and International level and I must say, you are an amazingly awesome teammate both on and off the field (love you for all those gummy bears, girl!). What is the one thing you want to be most remembered for as a teammate?
Kitt: Thank you Phaidra, that means a lot to me coming from you!!! I really think I want to be remembered as just that – a good teammate. I want to be remembered for pushing my teammates to be better and to work harder. I want to be someone that they can come talk to, lean on, train with, and just hang out with. I willingly put my body/life on the line for my teammates on the field and would do the same for them off the field.
PK: World Cup 2010. Was it the pinnacle of all your sports experiences?
Kitt: World Cup 2010 was the most amazing rugby experience of my life. I had the honor of playing in the very first match when USA played in England. I still get chills thinking about walking onto the field to sing the National Anthem. That was absolutely one of the best days of my life.
PK: Plans for making a run for World Cup 2014?
Kitt: Good question! I am indeed throwing my hat in the ring (I am ON THE BUS)! I would love to be a part of the 2014 squad and will continue to work as hard as I can in order to get there.
PK: Kitt, for any aspiring Eagles of international players out there, name 3 things that you would suggest they do to make themselves better rugby players.
Kitt: 1) Watch as much high level rugby as possible 2) Play as much high level rugby as possible 3) Be willing to put in the hard work and make the sacrifices (it is all worth it in the end)
PK: Where do you see women’s rugby headed?
Kitt: The truth is I’m not sure where I see women’s rugby going in this country. I would really like to see the women’s national team receive the same funding and benefits as the men’s national team. I would like to see elite female rugby players given the opportunity to live and train as professionals. It looks as though the USA is starting to head in that direction with the upcoming residency program. However, why is it 8 women and 15 men? Where is the equality in that? I hope that one day the Women Eagles will be able to live and breathe rugby, without having to worry about trying to balance their careers and financial affairs in order to compete for an opportunity to play alongside with the best of the best.
PK: Well stated. Kitt, thanks so much for taking this time to share some of you with us. I look forward to seeing you again and maybe even taking the field with you.
Kitt: I definitely miss seeing your face. Thank you so much and I look forward to taking the field with you again!