Fridays With Phaidra: Team USA Captain Jamie Burke & Eagle Phaidra Knight

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A perennial Team USA Eagle, Phaidra Knight is one of the most recognized names in women’s rugby. Today, she chats with Team USA Captain Jamie Burke.

PK: Jamie, thanks so much for joining me to tell the wide world of rugby a little bit about you.
Jamie: You know I’d never let an opportunity to chat with you go by!

PK: First off Jamie, where did you grow up?
Jamie: Hmmm… well, that’s a tough one. My mom was in the Navy, so we moved around quite a bit. I was born in Cherry Point, NC (I am a southerner), then lived in Annapolis, Hawaii, and Virginia. I guess if I had to pick one, I’d say I’m from Virginia since that’s where I graduated from high school and then went to college. Just moved to Durham, NC.

PK: So you’re a a southerner now, huh? Have you wrestled a pig yet? You know there’s no better training for rugby according to Carrone.
Jamie: I’ve always been a Southerner even when I lived in Boston – I got honked at more times for driving too slow…  I haven’t gotten a chance to wrestle a pig yet (though I did give my Rottweiler a bath last night, which is pretty close). Maybe that’s what I’ll do with that first free weekend.

PK: As a child, did you play with pretty dolls in satin dresses or Tonka trucks?
Jamie: I definitely remember my dad making my sister and me a huge home-made Barbie Mansion. It was white with tons of rooms. But I also distinctly remember using that mansion primarily as the operations base for my G.I. Joe missions. Of course, the G.I. Joes usually rode in Tonka trucks when they went on rescue Barbie who had inevitably gotten caught by some nefarious stuffed animal. So I guess the answer would be: Both.

Tackling Canada

PK: I love it. The best of both worlds! So when you weren’t playing with trucks and dolls, what sports were you engaged in?
Jamie: I was a soccer player primarily. My dad was my first coach when I was 4… I also played football, field hockey, and basketball, but those were mostly to keep from getting bored when it wasn’t soccer season. I still play on a couple different soccer teams now as a way to avoid having to do sprint workouts. I would so much rather do fitness through games… Ironically, it was through youth soccer that I had my first experience with rugby. I played soccer for the Naval Academy youth teams and we played right next to the rugby pitches. One Saturday my little kid soccer game had to be stopped so an ambulance could drive across the field to get a guy who had broken his femur.

PK: Jamie, you are one tough cookie. How do you manage to be so tough yet eat no meat? Girl, I just don’t get it!
Jamie: Eggs… lots and lots of eggs… and nuts, and beans, and protein shakes… I actually think not eating meat has helped me in some ways because it has forced me to be more cognizant of what I am putting in my body. I have to know the nutritional content of the foods I am eating otherwise I am not going to be able to perform and/or train like I need to. I think, if I did eat meat, I might get complacent and assume I was getting all the nutrients that I needed… the hardest times for me are on tours because I don’t have control over my own diet as much.

Jamie & last week's subject, Blair Groefsema.

PK: So, I have heard (by way of Monica VanBuskirk) that in your spare time you like to dibble in arts and crafts. In some of the words of Billy Joel, tell me about it.
Jamie: Monica shouldn’t be calling me out, if she ever wants to get another hat made for her… but yes, I like to crochet. I learned when I was in Americorps. I was making something like $9 a day and couldn’t really afford to buy people Christmas presents, but yarn was fairly cheap and I had the time, so I started making hats as gifts. Then I started on mittens and finally moved into slippers…The last thing I made was a pair of little tiny mittens for my nephew when he was born. sadly I haven’t had a whole lot of time for it recently.

PK: Let’s change gears a bit. Where did you do your undergraduate study? Was this where you started playing rugby? What was your first position?
Jamie: I went to the University of Virginia (Wahoo-wa!) and got a degree in Sports Medicine – talk about a degree I’ve had to put to too much use as a rugby player!… that’s where I started playing rugby. I was originally a second row. The rule on my college team was that if you wanted to move out of being a second, you had to find someone to replace you. Eventually, I found my replacement and was able to move to number 8 … I remember vividly the moment I became a prop, though. I was playing 8 for MARFU at ITT’s and we had just finished our game. As I was walking off the pitch Kathy Flores came up to me and asked, “Have you ever thought you might want to play for the Eagles?” Upon hearing that I got super excited thinking that she thought I had rocked it at 8, so I said, “Yes! Absolutely!” She looked back at me and with a completely straight face said, “Learn to prop.” and walked away. The rest is history.

PK: When did you first play for the USA (U23’s) and what countries did you travel to? Senior side?
Jamie: I first played for the U-23s in 2000 in Winnipeg and played off and on until I aged out. In terms of tours, I went to Canada too many times but never went abroad with the U-23s. I started playing for the Eagles in 2004 at Churchill Cup – my first cap was against New Zealand. Talk about a wake up call. I think my goal that game was to just survive and not do anything too stupid. Luckily, when I went into the game, we were already getting killed, so there wasn’t too much I could do to screw it up… with them, I’ve only been to the UK and Canada. I mean I’ve been there a lot, something like 5 times to Canada and then 4 times to various parts of the UK (England, Scotland, Ireland)… I am really keeping my fingers crossed for somewhere new soon!

Jamie's on the left

PK: What was your best tour?
Jamie: Oh, jeez! I don’t know. I love each of them for different reasons. I mean, I’ll never forget the Limericks of Limerick or the HMS Caledonia practicing with ice daggers falling from the sky or Rock banding it out at Residency… but overall, I think I’d have to say the 2006 World Cup. There’s something about playing at a World Cup that is just unreal, and for it to be my first… but what am I talking about, you know exactly what I am talking about with your 3 world cups!

PK: What are the 3 biggest differences in the current squad and the squad that played at World Cup 2010?
Jamie: I think this squad is much younger. But despite that, they actually have more rugby experience than the team at the 2010 World Cup did at this same point in the last World Cup cycle. But, I think that’s great and really a testament to the upswing in youth and high school rugby programs in the country. Whereas before we had players that were 25 who were playing with 4 or 5 years of rugby experience because they didn’t start until college, we now have players who are 22 who have 6 to 8 years of experience because they started playing high school… the difference in your understanding of the game just grows so much with that extra time.

PK: Do you believe we have a realistic chance to play in the World Cup finals in 2014? What will it take for Team USA to accomplish this?
Jamie: I totally think the USA has a chance. Seeing how we played against England this past summer showed us that. While it sucks that we lost, we were closer than we’ve been in years and it showed that we can hang at that level. We just don’t have the international experience at this point to be able to maintain that level of intensity throughout an entire 80 minute international match or an entire tour – yet. We need to develop that, and that only comes with more game time, more tours, etc. So, I’d say Team USA needs more time together getting high level competition, which means more support.

At ease...

PK: 2 World Cups. An All World Team Honor. Plans for a 3rd World Cup?
Jamie: You know, it’s up in the air… I would LOVE to go to Paris for 2014 (hint, hint!), but my focus right now is on finishing my PhD, which got put on hold for rugby for many years. So, if I can get that done and have enough time to get back on the bus and try to make the squad then I’d be all about going for a third… but for now, we’ll have to wait and see.

PK: Jamie, it was awesome chatting with you. Thanks for taking the time to share a bit of your life story with me.
Jamie: My pleasure, PK. I can’t wait to get to see you and your sweet-potato carrying self again soon!