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 fellow Team USA heavyweight, Melanie Denham.
PK: Mel, brother! How is life in Beantown?
Mel: My brother! Life is good. It’s strangely warm in Boston for this time of year, and I am definitely not complaining.
PK: I must ask, are you and your Patriots ready for the Giants to repeat recent history?
Mel: Haha… I have a funny story behind the 2008 Super Bowl, actually. A bunch of us were at a friend’s house watching it. It had been a crazy weekend for me and I was extremely tired. The game seemed to be pretty much over, and I was pretty much crashing, so I left early and went home to bed. The next morning I saw my roommate (who is a total JOKER). Even though the game seemed like a no-brainer; Patriots had it in the bag type of game – I asked her how it ended, just to verify that the Patriots won. She told me it was crazy and that they lost in the last seconds of the game! And I absolutely did not believe her!! She kept laughing, telling me it was true, but this girl is such a jokester! I refused to fall for it. She always gets me with something and this was too obvious! I didn’t realize she was telling the truth until later that morning when I was driving to work and I heard everyone talking about it on the radio… ANYWAYS, this year will be very different I am sure. Sorry Giants.
PK: We shall see who will be sorry. So, when and where did you start playing rugby?
Mel: I started playing the spring of my freshman year at Bridgewater State College. I actually met Sharon Blaney at my first practice! We became best friends from there on out. I only played with Bridgewater for about a year. I became really interested in the sport and wanted to get better, so I joined Boston Women’s Rugby and played with them throughout the rest of college.
PK: What position did you play?
Mel: In college they started me off at wing, but after the first game they moved me to flanker. I played flanker and 8-man ever since.
PK: Growing up Mel Denham. What was that like?
Mel: Growing up Mel Denham… hahaha, you should ask my sister what it was like! I pretty much drove her crazy with my insane amount of energy while she much preferred to sit and read. I grew up about 20 miles south of Boston on a small farm in Norwell, MA. I loved our chicken and sheep. We had lots of land and a State Park in our backyard. I was always outside running around, climbing trees, exploring the old bunkers in the park, pretty much anything that had me on the go! We moved to Colorado when I was in 6th grade, but my mom didn’t like the altitude change. I think the air was too dry. So we moved back at the end of my 6th grade year… to Norwell again! Woo hoo! We had saved a lot of land and ended up building a new house right next to the one I grew up in. That was weird for me, but also kind of cool. I didn’t really play sports in high school. I played softball from 3rd grade to 10th grade and then realized I wanted a job instead, so I could make money. Maybe I was preparing myself for the expensive sport in my near future…
PK: Smart. Very smart. Fast forward to now, what do you do for a living?
Mel: I am a Geophysicist. I work for a small Geophysical Surveying Company.
PK: That sounds like a job for very smart people.
Mel: It sure does, doesn’t it? Katie Dowty works with me there. She DOES have a Harvard degree…
PK: Nerds. But nerds are cool. Now, I understand you could probably get a job as a drummer. Guitar Hero. Tell us about that (obsession).
Mel: Obsession?! Who have you been talking to!? Regardless, yes, I am The Drummer for rock band. Are you looking for a drummer? I can pretty much complete every song on expert for all 4 of the Guitar Hero/ Rock Band discs that I have. It’s really not a big deal. Also, I am selling my real drum set from my parent’s basement, if you know anyone that is interested.
PK: Anyone want to buy a drum set? She may through in a set of autographed drum sticks for free.
Mel: Sure will.
PK: Let’s talk rugby. When did you debut for the USA Team?
Mel: Wait, I want to keep talking about drumming! Kidding. I debuted for the USA in August 2007 at the Can-Am Games in Blaine, MN.
PK: How many international caps do you have?
Mel: I believe I have 14.
PK: What was your World Cup experience like?
Mel: Being selected to represent my country in a World Cup was an absolute honor. The overall experience itself was amazing. Living, training and playing with the squad for 2 months was surreal. The World Cup itself however, was bittersweet. Our goal was the Final Four and so our loss to Ireland in pool play was devastating. But at that point, there was nothing else to do but move forward from it. We did that by taking the 5th place spot over Canada in our final game of the tournament, which is by far one of the greatest memories in my rugby career. So my World Cup experience… bittersweet.
PK: You experienced a significant injury in 2011. Can you tell me about that? Was it your most significant injury to date?
Mel: Funny, I actually just got back from a follow up appointment. I tore my MCL and medial meniscus in a game against Quebec Select Side last spring. I went into surgery for a meniscus clean out, but when I woke up I was told that they repaired the meniscus instead of trimming it. For anyone that doesn’t understand the difference: I basically went from walking out of surgery and fully running in 4-6 weeks to being in an immobilizing brace for 6 weeks, crutches and no full weight bearing for 4 weeks. It was the definition of a rude awakening. Rehab was extensive. It was all a lot to deal with because I had not been mentally prepared for it going into surgery. In the long run however, it is better to have the repair if possible, so when I am 50 years old I will be much more happy.
PK: You recently returned from National Camp held in Florida. How was it?
Mel: It was good! With my surgery last year, this camp was the first event I have been to since World Cup. I was excited to meet the new coaching staff and see their approach on things. I also met a lot of new players, which was awesome! Because it was a combined camp of 15’s, 7’s and Collegiate All Americans, I definitely hit up breakfast as early as possible to avoid a line.
PK: Are you eyeing another World Cup in 2014? If so, is there anything you will do differently in preparation for it versus the 2010 World Cup?
Mel: I am for sure eying another World Cup. As of this moment, re-strengthening my knee is the most important thing for me.
PK: Do you believe that Americans will eventually fall in love with rugby?
Mel: I think it is already happening. So I guess I want to believe that this growth will continue. I am very curious to see the year or so leading up to the Olympics and then the years following. I think there is an enormous potential for exposure, and with the full time contracts now in place for the men and women 7’s players (Yeah, Katie Dowty!) there is also a great opportunity for success! And what everyone seems to say and believe is that we need to have success at the international level to gain any kind of real sponsorship… I think the full time contracts and the Olympics have the potential to make this happen.
PK: Mel, I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. I do hope to see you and take the field again with you soon. Take care.
Mel: I better see you soon! It’s been too long. If I’m doing a geophysical survey in the Bronx I’ll call you!
PK: You better!