Lindsay Mayo poses for a photo after being named the Next Olympic Hopeful for the sport of rugby on July 30, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
When Lindsey Mayo’s soccer-playing career ended with her graduation from Arkansas in 2016, she thought her dreams of playing at the Olympic Games were over. So she took a job with Boeing, solving engineering problems to build the next space-faring rocket.
Still, though, she wondered about her athletic future.
Then she heard about Next Olympic Hopeful, a talent-search to find potential Team USA athletes for future Olympic Games. Of nearly 3,500 applicants for the show’s second season, Mayo was one of 90 invited to formally try out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
While cameras filmed, Mayo and the other finalists went through a battery of tests, held over five days, to show off their raw skills to officials from a handful of national governing bodies.
The result was “Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful,” a two-part broadcast that aired over Thanksgiving weekend on NBC and NBCSN. And those who tuned in witnessed Mayo, a Gallatin, Tennessee native, earn one of eight invitations to join national team training camps.
In her case, the invite came from rugby sevens, the small-sided version of the game that made its Olympic debut in 2016.
Since filming ended in July, Mayo has been on a crash course to learn about her new sport.
“I had never played before. I had never held a ball,” she said. “The only thing I knew about it was watching bits and pieces of it on TV, maybe during the Olympics or flipping through channels. After the show was filmed at the end of July, they gave me a rugby ball and said OK, pass and toss this around a little bit, watch some rugby, we'll see you in September (for camp).
“In that month, I did as much as I could to get a feel for the ball and learn how to pass it, and watched some rugby to pick up what I could.”
Over the course of the Next Olympic Hopeful combine, Mayo was tested on everything from her weight training to speed and agility with the cameras looking on.
“The first day, with all the cameras, it got a little bit awkward,” Mayo said. “The cameras are here. What do I do? What do I say? After the first half of the first day, you get used to it and were able to be more yourself instead of worrying about the cameras being there.”
Lindsay Mayo trains for rugby during Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful on July 30, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Officials from a variety of national governing bodies were looking for traits common in elite athletes from their sports. Mayo’s results jumped out to U.S. rugby sevens coach Chris Brown.
“There was a wide range of talented athletes for us to evaluate over the course of ‘The Next Olympic Hopeful,’” he said via email. “While it was a difficult decision, we felt the character traits and athletic abilities Lindsey possesses showed tremendous promise when measured against the standards we set for our Olympic athletes. We’re looking forward to working with Lindsey more closely as she evolves as a rugby player.”
Still, any real celebration would have to wait. With months between the filming and airing of Next Olympic Hopeful, Mayo had to keep mum about being chosen.
“We couldn't talk about who won, who was training for what sport, what our results of the tests were until after the show aired,” she said. “I told my family, but friends and some other people who wanted to know what I was doing, I had to keep quiet about it. I had to get a little bit creative, which was fun. Now that the show has aired, the light bulb's come on for a lot of people. It's been fun to talk to people.”
Mayo is currently in Chula Vista, California, with the U.S. rugby team at a developmental camp. She is learning rugby as she trains next to people who have played it for years. While soccer and rugby sevens are different sports, she sees similarities that help her transition from one to the other.
“It's more of a mental similarity than anything,” she said. “The way you think about space and look at the field, it's very similar, so you can see where players are, understand what you can do, what you should do on the field, that thought process, that decision making you go through, is very similar in soccer and rugby.”
While she learns rugby and gets the chance to try out for the national team, Mayo is still working with Boeing. The company allowed her to work remotely as she trains. During the day, Mayo learns rugby. At night, she crunches numbers to help build the next generation of rockets.
“It's basically the next ultrapowerful rocket that NASA is hoping to use to push our current boundaries of space exploration, especially manned space exploration,” she said. “Some days are more exciting than others, like with every job. Some days, you have to remind yourself, OK. I'm contributing to something really cool. I'm able to do something that not a lot of people have the opportunity to do.”
Maggie Hendricks is based in Chicago and has covered Olympic sports for more than 10 years for USA Today and Yahoo Sports. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.