Column: San Diego Legion rugby players balance physical sport, unique off-field worlds

As the San Diego Legion rugby players bounce around weight benches and workout areas at their team headquarters, you begin to wonder if they might lift the machines as well.

These are stout and sturdy humans built for close-quarters combat, without anything to cushion the flurry of in-game blows beyond mental and physical armor.

On the pitch, they share in the scrums and crushing tackles. Off it, though, their lives could hardly vary more in a sport where season paychecks land south of $ 30,000.

One is a software engineer working for a defense contractor, security clearance and all. Another operates a coffee shop. There’s the owner of a track-lighting business, playing alongside a teammate with an 80-plus-clients lawncare operation.

As the Legion prepare to face the Houston SaberCats at 4 pm Sunday, with playoff implications in tow at the SDSU Sports Deck, fascinating life layers reside under all those muscles.

Chris Robshaw, a former English captain who remains a national star there, also keeps an offseason eye on the menu and mochas at Josie’s, a coffee and brunch spot in Winchester, England.

“It’s been great fun,” Robshaw said of the business located about an hour and a half southwest of London. “It’s more interesting and exciting than putting money into stocks and that sort of thing. When you create something like that, it’s great when you see people enjoy it. ”

Robshaw is so revered that his former club, Harlequins, named a popular in-stadium drinking spot the Chris Robshaw Bar.

“I was quite overwhelmed when they presented me with it,” Robshaw said. “When I had to pour my first beer, it was quite a terrible effort. I need a bit of practice before I get back behind the bar. ”

Teammate Nate Sylvia focuses on computer coding, more than cold beer.

The 2012 graduate of Mt. Carmel High School works as a software engineer for Tampa, Fla.-based Arorae Corporation. What does Sylvia specifically do? That whole security-clearance thing causes him to choose words carefully.

“I can’t really talk about some of this stuff, so it’s hard,” Sylvia said with a smile. “We’re doing contracts for the Navy right now.”

An abrupt shift from sociology and a possible criminal justice path to computer science sparked the unique job situation.

Are people surprised to find out a hulking, 260-pound rugby player spends his off-pitch time untangling complex computer coding for the US government?

“The majority of people are, I’d say,” he said. “It’s a unique combination, but I count myself lucky that I have a job I can do remotely while I’m still doing this. My biggest worry is when I’m done with rugby, you have a six- or seven-year gap in an experience that would be tough to find a job. ”

Navigating a sport that can ship you from one continent to another while keeping bank accounts healthy caused Tomas Aoake and his rugby-playing partner, Grace, to become creative.

They opened Kukutai Lawn Mowing Services three years ago in Auckland, New Zealand.

Grace, who is currently playing in Japan, handles administrative duties. Aoake ensures an employee has all the tools necessary until he jumps in during the offseason.

The lawncare expertise remains mostly a secret in San Diego, though.

“I haven’t really told many of the guys, otherwise I would be on jobs everywhere,” Aoaoke joked.

Former University of Arizona rugby player Ryan Matyas owns and operates Oceanstone Architectural Lighting, a company that installs track lighting. The system is operated from a phone app that can change color schemes and intensity to fit moods and seasons.

Have ladder, will travel.

“I enjoy this more than the concrete work I did in New Zealand, I can tell you that,” said Matyas, the first player signed in Legion history. “I chalk that and landscaping in Arizona at 120 degrees up to character building.”

Comparing the satisfaction of an engineering a bit moment in a rugby game to a business breakthrough has some similarities.

“There’s no other feeling like scoring a try. That’s a category of its own, ”Matyas said. “But landing a big job is exciting, too. Every job is like another game, really. You’ve got a shot to prove yourself.

“It’s nice to challenge myself outside of sports.”

The benefits for Legion players extend beyond the money.

“I love to have things to focus on outside of the game,” Robshaw said. “You need to have that mental switch. If you’re just thinking rugby 24-7, it’s tough. It’s nice to have a bit of separation. Balance is hugely important. ”

In this sport, not all heavy lifting is physical.

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