Ryan Carlyle solidified her name in the history books this weekend at the World University Summer Games (WUSG) in Kazan, Russia, as she scored the first-ever try for the USA. Not a bad way to top off what has been a whirlwind summer for the 23-year-old – after a year-and-a-half of practicing with the USA 7s Women and six months as a resident spent mostly on reserve, Carlyle got the opportunity to play in three international tournaments back to back to back.
These opportunities were mostly a (welcomed) surprise for Carlyle. At the end of this past season, Carlyle sat down with USA 7s Women’s coach Ric Suggitt to talk about getting more game experience. They discussed playing club 7s either in the States or abroad, but then the opportunity arose for her to play in the 15s test series against France in June. Of course, she jumped at the chance for more play and headed a couple hours north to join the USA 15s team.
During the France assembly, she got a phone call saying there was a change in the roster on the USA 7s squad and that she would be going to the World Cup in Moscow. Shortly after rejoining the 7s team in Chula Vista, Suggitt informed Carlyle that Sue Parker was looking for extra players for the University Games. Carlyle didn’t think twice.
“It was just crazy how I’ve been just kind of hoping for an opportunity….[then] it happened all bam bam bam. I didn’t have time to think about it…I was just super excited,” says Carlyle.
For some, this sudden upsurge of elite, international play would be overwhelming – but Carlyle says she was ready for it.
“Since training every day with [the USA women] for a year and a half, I’ve definitely built a lot of mental toughness and emotional toughness, which I think is a huge part of being an international athlete. I know I’ve been physically capable of doing this since I started – but I think a lot of your maturity on these tours is your mental and emotional toughness. I realized for the first time this summer that I actually feel mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared. That was a big deal for me. I’m just way more comfortable playing now.”
That being said, it hasn’t exactly been easy for Carlyle. The World Cup and WUSG were only five days apart; yet due to pre-booked flights and hefty hotel costs, Carlyle travelled back to the States between the competitions. The travel certainly taxed her as she flew from Russia back to Chula Vista, and then to Annapolis to train for the University games with the Navy girls. She was sick throughout her training there, but luckily when she returned to Russia, her body leveled out again.
“Adjusting back…Well, I guess I never un-adjusted, because coming back [to Russia] just felt right. My body was like, ‘Oh, thank God you’re back!’”
As opposed to the competition in Moscow, the WUSG in Kazan was an overall new experience for Caryle.
“This is my first multi-sport event as well as rugby’s, at least for USA,” Carlyle said. “I’ve been to a couple IRB events around the world, and you get kind of used to seeing the same teams, the same people, the same uniforms … and rugby kind of has its own culture in itself. So it’s almost comfortable being at those events. But coming out here with 12,000 athletes from 170 different countries, sports I’ve never even heard of, and we’re all in this village that feels like a college campus … Not a day goes by where you don’t see someone or something completely new.”
But certainly, her time at the Games has been one of growth. For once, she explains, she wasn’t the youngest, less-experienced player on the field. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I’m one of the more experienced players here, one of the more knowledgeable, strongest, faster,” she explained. “Although I’m not a captain, I do feel like a leader, and that makes me feel more confident as I’m playing. I hope my role as a leader on this team helps me be a stronger, more confident player with the USA girls.”
Finally, when asked how it feels to be the first American to initiate our record books at this event, Carlyle humbly laughs and says, “You know, I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was just going out there running for the try zone! I don’t even think I realized what was happening in that moment.”
Apparently, the same thing happened when she scored a try in the World Cup game against New Zealand, a feat few Americans can claim to have done. Her teammates were so excited for her, but for Carlyle it was just another try. When they told her how impressive a score it was, she said, “Really?”
It’s this humility – or ignorance, as Carlyle calls it – that has really allowed her to learn and grow as a player this summer.
“I’m super thankful to be here and to be given this opportunity to play, especially with these [Navy] girls. This has been an awesome experience and I’m really excited to see how it helps me down the road.”