Elana Meyers poses for a portrait ahead of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Elana Meyers wasted no time. The morning after she and bobsled push teammate Lauryn Williams cruised to a silver medal in Sochi, Meyers was firing off an email that would jump start the next phase of her athletic career — as a rugby player.
The email was sent to Ric Suggitt, Team USA’s women’s rugby coach and the man who could be Meyers’ Olympic coach about two years from now at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. Meyers wrote Suggitt to tell him she was ready for rugby.
|Elana Meyers (R) and Lauryn Williams make a run during the women's bobsled heats at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sanki Sliding Center on Feb. 18, 2014.
Meyers, who had come ever so close to winning a gold medal in Sochi on Feb. 19, arrived at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., March 2. On March 3, she was training with the best rugby players in the United States and trying her hardest not to find herself off-sides in practice.
As many of Meyers’ U.S. Olympic teammates from Sochi have been basking in the post-Olympic glow of red-carpet events, attending movie premieres, dancing with the stars and even meeting President Barack Obama at the White House, Meyers has been slugging it out with several training sessions (sometimes three a day), watching as much rugby film as she can and most of all, running, running and running some more.
Several Olympians are in Washington, D.C., today to attend seminars about how to handle the next phase of their lives, but Meyers is in China readying to play in her first competition as a rugby player. Team USA is playing in the Guangzhou Sevens, the fourth leg of the 2013-14 IRB Women’s Sevens World Series, and the Eagles will face Canada, Russia and France in Pool C in China April 5-6.
“I’m all about living life to the fullest,” Meyers said in an interview with TeamUSA.org in a rare moment of spare time after a workout in Chula Vista. “This was an opportunity to do something different.”
Although Meyers’ transition from bobsled to rugby came about seemingly instantaneously, the idea of trying the new sport actually came about a few years ago when a rugby reporter mentioned it to her. Meyers, whose father played football, gave it more than a passing thought. When she was in Chula Vista training, she struck up a conversation with Suggitt.
“Coach saw me and said, ‘After the Olympics come by and give it a look,’” Meyers said.
Suggitt said he told Meyers to focus on bobsled for Sochi and then get back to him about rugby. Although he hoped she would contact him, he kept his distance. He had saved a spot for her on the team but didn’t want to jinx himself. Suggitt was so superstitious that she would not come out to California to try his sport that he didn’t even watch her compete in bobsled on TV. He read the reports about how she fared online and in the newspapers.
Then he received an email from Meyers saying she was ready for the next phase of her athletic career.
“And she jumped full in since she arrived,” Suggitt said.
Meyers is so new to rugby that the photo on her biography page on the USA Rugby website has her pictured in her bobsled attire. But if anyone is likely to succeed in making it as a crossover athlete it is Meyers.
Meyers has made a career out of trying new sports. In high school, she played basketball, softball, soccer and ran track, and she went on to play softball for George Washington University with hopes of representing Team USA at the summer Games. After a rough go in a tryout with the national softball team, Meyers decided to pursue bobsled and made the Winter Games her priority.
Along with driver Erin Pac, Meyers earned a bronze medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Meyers shifted gears again, becoming a pilot, and then earned a silver medal in Sochi.
For now, Suggitt is not overly concerned about Meyers’ lack of knowledge about rugby or the mistakes she likely will make in her first competition in China. He said she more than will make up for those problems by bringing her Olympic experience and commitment to training to her new teammates. Rugby is a sport that will be new to the Olympic program in 2016, and having an Olympian around the team will be a huge resource.
“We will benefit immensely from that,” Suggitt said. “For our new group, her experience is something you just can’t buy.”
In the meantime, Meyers laughed about how much she has to learn about her new sport, saying, “I knew that you couldn’t tackle anybody unless they had the ball, but I have been Googling pretty much everything. I have found that Wikipedia is not the best way to learn rugby.”
Her good sense of humor, combined with the help she has received from her new teammates and the rugby staff, have helped her get through the rigorous training.
“There has been so much extra running,” Meyers said. “I was just dying out there. I think the furthest I have run was 80 meters in the last seven years combined. Now that’s all I do is run.”
Plus, after years of training and competing in cold-weather cities, often in remote parts of the world, it’s not too difficult to enjoy living in Chula Vista.
“I have the opportunity to train in the happiest place on earth,” she said. “I figured, ‘How can I not give it a try?’”
Meyers paused and added, “Oh wait, that’s a pun now.” (A try is rugby-speak for a touchdown.)
For several years, Meyers has been an avid recruiter of women to bobsled, and several track stars made the jump to the winter sport, including Meyers’ Sochi teammate, Lauryn Williams, who won an Olympic gold track relay medal and a silver medal in the 100-meter. Meyers said she plans to continue bobsled and will participate in that sport “until I can’t do it anymore … until 2018 at least.”
Her focus, at least for the moment, is adding a summer sport to her repertoire. Even though she is training in the sun and joked about her farmer’s tan, bobsled will never be far from her mind.
Even as she competes in China with her rugby teammates, she will be reminded of bobsled. In fact, her first rugby game will be against Canada, the country that caused her heartbreak in Sochi. And Heather Moyse, who was part of the Canadian duo that won the gold medal in bobsled in Russia, also has rugby ties. Moyse represented Canada in the rugby world cup in 2006 and 2010. Suggitt, too, is a native Canadian, and laughed about the fact that Meyers is beginning her rugby career against Canucks.
“I think that’s where her good sense of humor will help her,” Suggitt said.
Meyers is able to laugh but that doesn’t mean she’s not taking her new athletic career seriously. She didn’t get to where she is in bobsled by taking things lightly, and she’s planning on attacking rugby in the same manner.
Still, both Suggitt and Meyers know that this is a gamble, but they are both optimistic about the upside of this deal.
“You don’t want to do something for publicity,” Suggitt said. “If I didn’t think she had anything to offer us I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want to waste anybody’s time. Right now, it’s no harm, no foul.”
Meyers is looking forward to her rugby debut.
“I talked to a few of my bobsled teammates and they think I’m crazy,” Meyers said. “Coming off the high of the Olympics and so much time is spent building up to that moment and then to go right to another sport.
“But then again,” she added, “I probably wouldn’t be a bobsledder if I wasn’t a little crazy.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.