Kasey McCravey: A Different Path to the Olympic Dream
Kasey McCravey’s life is different from yours.
It’s a sunny mid-morning in Chula Vista, California. It had rained heaps the day before. The field remains drenched. Drainage isn’t a thing in these parts. The sidelines will be wet for a week. That’s normal. Practice ends and McCravey sits down on a white folding chair. Her teammates disperse, and other than an odd plane flying overhead, it’s rather serene – a mountainous landscape, a beautiful day, and a rugby pitch.
At this moment in time, this whole thing – the playing with USA’s national Rugby Sevens side, the living in California, the Olympic dream – is McCravey’s life.
Less than three years earlier, McCravey, 25, was in the Baltics staring at tanks situated just on the other side of the Russian border. Having graduated from the United States Military Academy only a year before in 2016, she was overseeing the condition of the American tanks glaring back. McCravey was the Battalion Maintenance Officer. She sourced parts and maintenance for the military’s various vehicles and tanks.
“The mission was to deter Russian aggression,” McCravey says, recalling the tensest moments from her first deployment. “We wanted to make sure they didn’t come over and invade the Baltics. We were a show of force to make sure Russia was staying in their own lane.”
In the end, nothing happened.
“…but for a while there, you’re like, if they come over the border, that’s our time,” says McCravey, who hails from Scottsdale, Arizona. “That’s what we’re getting paid for. You want to keep peace as much as possible, but if it were to happen, you have to do it. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do it.”
Instead, the 5-foot-7 McCravey could continue to take regular moments within her pockets of free time to hone her passing skills with a rugby ball.
McCravey graduated from West Point in the spring of 2016. While there, she was a varsity softball player. A little over a week before graduating, she had her ’15 minutes of fame moment’ when a highlight of her racing towards home plate, leaping over an awaiting catcher and scoring became the No. 1 play on ESPN Sportscenter’s Top 10 (May 14, 2016). Three days later, she was interviewed on Fox & Friends.
But just eight months later, her sporting career was in her rearview mirror. McCravey – currently a First Lieutenant but who will be promoted to Captain in May – deployed to Europe. The Olympic dreams that a seven-year-old McCravey had shared with her Mom were seemingly now over. She had even declined an opportunity to try out for USA’s softball team in favour of going to Europe.
But then, just after leaving for a nine-month stint in Poland, Lithuania, and Germany, she received an email from Andrew Locke, who also had attended West Point and was an assistant coach with USA’s women’s Rugby Sevens team.
In essence, the email said: “I know your background. You don’t know me, but I think you’d be good at rugby.”
McCravey called her Mom. Her Mom reminded her of what that seven-year-old Kasey had said.
Locke sent her some videos on how to pass a rugby ball and one of McCravey’s friends became her training partner.
Ten months later, in November 2017, she was in Chula Vista training with the Sevens team.
“All of the girls were so excited to teach rugby to someone,” McCravey recalls. “They would always help me so much and pull me aside and tell me things and I was just trying to keep an open mind and take in any information people were willing to give me.”
Her passing practice helped.
“That was my saving grace.”
The following spring, in May of 2018, she officially joined the team. A year after that – and still only 16 months removed from her European deployment, she made her debut on the World Rugby Sevens Series in Sydney (Feb. 1-3, 2019). She would end up playing in five matches that season, which included being part of the USA’s first-ever Cup-winning performance in Biarritz, France.
“Standing for the national anthem in France before that Cup final – that was my favourite rugby moment ever,” she says. “Nothing pumps me up like a good national anthem.”
So far this year, she has played in Glendale, where she got to hear The Star Spangled Banner again as the Americans won a second straight Cup, and in Cape Town.
“Kasey is very consistent,” says USA women’s Sevens coach Chris Brown. “She’s new to the game but in terms of her application and how she carries herself, she’s very consistent. That’s huge for our culture.
“What she’s done to learn the sport shows her character and how coachable she is and how quickly she picks things up.”
In her short time with the program, she’s been both a steadying force and a sponge.
“I think Kasey is a born leader,” says USA teammate Ilona Maher. “She doesn’t get heated. She speaks with facts. I love listening to her. But at the same time, she’s so open to learning from others.”
Fellow teammate Nicole Heavirland describes her in one word.
“Reliable – on and off the field.”
The veteran of 120 matches on the world series explains:
“It’s, 2 a.m. and you’re like, ‘Hey Kasey, can you pick me up?’ I know she’d be there. 100 per cent she’d be there.” (N.B.: Teammate Alev Kelter quickly chimes in, asking when Heavirland would ever be up at 2 a.m., to which the early-to-bed Nicole agreed the situation was rather hypothetical, albeit true).
“On the field, she’s very versatile – it seems she can pretty much play any position.”
Brown suggests that realizing her full potential is just a matter of playing more rugby. It seems her Sportscenter moment was a signal of that very potential.
“She’s creative and instinctive,” Brown says. “Her ability to beat players one-on-one and create opportunities for others is very, very good. Her upside comes with a little bit more consistency of execution. I think we know what we have in her. Now it’s the consistency of making good decisions and knowing how to exploit something in the moment.”
This summer, McCravey could realize her childhood dream. By that time, she could literally be a Captain playing rugby for her country in the 50,000-seat Tokyo Stadium.
“I’m so blessed to be able to represent the United States in a military uniform as well as repping it for the country in an athletic setting,” says McCravey, who will return to duty after this summer. “I get chills every time. What is my life? I can’t express in words how honoured I am to be in this position.”
Kasey’s life is definitely different from yours.