A perennial Team USA Eagle, Phaidra Knight is one of the most recognized names in women’s rugby. Her home club is the New York Rugby Club. Today, she chats with Team USA star Jennifer Starkey, who helped us out while on her trip to NYC.
PK: Vanilla Face! Thanks for making yourself available to me and the rugby world today.
Starkey: Anything for you, Chocolate Face! Haha, that takes me back to our first tour to Dubai watching Borat in our down time!
PK: How have you been?
Starkey: Awesome! Living the good life like always. It’s been kind of nice having a ton more free time since retiring from rugby.
PK: Awesome! You have a great attitude on life my friend!
Starkey: Haha… You know me, always trying to have fun!
PK: How long did you play rugby? And I am, by no means suggesting that you are done.
Starkey: About ten years.
PK: When and where did you start?
Starkey: I started playing rugby during my first semester of college at JMU. One of the girls in my dorm wanted to join the team but didn’t want to go alone, so she made me go with her…guess that was one of the smarter choices I made back in my college days. 🙂
PK: Did you play other sports growing up?
Starkey: I played soccer and basketball pretty seriously. I also had stints with cross country, track, and volleyball though.
PK: Speaking of growing up, did you “roll solo” or did you grow up with siblings?
Starkey: I rolled deep PK! My parents were divorced so I had a lot of siblings: 1 brother, 2 step brothers, 1 step sister, and a half brother.
PK: I understand that you were a state champion boxer? (Elaborate here from start to finish)
Starkey: Haha… I guess I was. I really only started boxing as a way to keep in shape for rugby during the winter months before I started playing internationally. But I really grew to like it and I only ended up fighting in one tournament before USA Rugby took over all of my free time. That tournament happened to be the VA State Tournament and I ended up winning my weight class.
PK: Look Vanilla Face, be honest on this one. Have you ever delivered an uppercut during a match?
Starkey: No! I never was a dirty player on the field. 🙂
PK: In a bar?
Starkey: That might be a different story, but I think I’ll have to plead the fifth on this one!
PK: At work? Come on, give tell the people what they want to hear!
Starkey: I can’t say I haven’t wanted to. 🙂
PK: So are you suggesting that you are a lover not a fighter?
Starkey: Well, PK I’d have to say I’m a lover and a fighter.
PK: Alright. I will let that rest. I hear that you are dusting off the old boots to play 7s in Vegas this upcoming February? Are you looking to make a comeback?
Starkey: I don’t know if I’d call it a comeback! I’m really just hoping that I remember how to pass and catch since I haven’t touched a ball since the World Cup in 2009. But I have definitely been missing rugby and getting the itch to play again so we threw together a motley team, The Mighty Rucks, and are playing in the invitational in Vegas. I am really looking forward to stepping on the pitch again!
PK: How does your Crossfit coach feel about that?
Starkey: I haven’t really mentioned it to him. Unfortunately I am no where near as good at Crossfit as I was at rugby! It is two weeks before the Crossfit competition season starts so I will just be hoping for no injuries!
PK: Any thoughts of returning to International 7s?
Starkey: I can’t say that I have not thought about it recently, with all of this rugby talk, but I have no immediate plans to right now. But we will see I am never one to rule things out…
PK: What was your experience like during your time on the USA 7s team?
Starkey: It was a roller coaster! When I first got invited to a footwork camp by Jules McCoy, I really didn’t feel like I was good enough to be there. But Jules must have seen something in me and I was invited to play in my very first USA 7s tournament in 2007. That was back when the USA 7s was in San Diego. From then leading up through 2009, I was on the team. Those years were filled with many cold dark nights spent on the track, in the gym, and best of all going on tours with the team. The most memorable experience was the time period leading up to the World Cup, though. During that time rugby was my entire life; we all moved to good ol Little Rock, Arkansas for about six weeks leading up to Dubai. Getting to train full time like a professional athlete was an incredible experience but there was also a ton of pressure on us each and every day so it was also a stressful time. But getting to play in the World Cup was well worth it!
PK: You were one of the first professional women’s rugby players here in the US (professional in the fact that you were actually paid to be a full time athlete). How does it feel to actually witness 8 more female rugby players join the ranks of you and the 11 others professional rugby players that were apart of the 2009 7s World Cup journey?
Starkey: It feels great! I am so happy to see that USA Rugby is headed in the right direction as far as supporting their female athletes. It’s definitely an important step as we head into the next World Cup and then the Olympics.
PK: What till it take for women’s rugby to become a spectator sport as well as a lucrative business in the US?
Starkey: That would definitely take a lot of sponsorship and some spearheading of it, as they did with women’s soccer.
However, I think we are still really far from that here in the US. Before any of that happens I think that rugby in general would need to become more mainstream.
PK: I really appreciate your time today Vanilla Face. I look forward to seeing you soon, hopefully in Vegas. We will definitely be following you there.
Starkey: Of course Phaidra! I look forward to catching up again real soon!