Eric Duechle is now at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. working to break into the 7s National Team as a member of the military's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).
The 28-year-old former Air Force Academy All American is a massive unit at 6'5" and in the neighborhood of 250 lbs. He moves very well for his size, however, and has earned his nickname "The Beast". He's currently living on-site at the OTC, but he'll move off-site once he's settled. As a member of the WCAP, like Nu'u Punimata, who is also at the OTC, Duechle will still receive his full salary from the Air Force.
“This ranks as the best possible experience I’ve ever had. Granted, I haven’t done anything yet, but to have the honor to represent the US, not just the military but now the country, there’s nothing more I could ask for,” said Duechle.
“I’m very grateful, and I want to make the most of it, because back at my unit, they’re all, not so much do it for us, but make the Air Force proud, so I feel like that whole entire community is behind me. It’s my dream. The Air Force was my dream as a little kid, growing up rugby became my dream, and now I get to do both, so I feel really, really fortunate.”
The ink isn’t yet dry on his admittance paperwork for the WCAP, but it’s now just a matter of time, and time is what it’s taken a lot of to get Duechle to Chula Vista, Calif. He’s had hopes of joining the WCAP since 2009.
“We’ve been talking about it ever since rugby got put into the Olympics,” said Duechle. “There’s guys in the military that are familiar with the WCAP program, and they were kind of familiar that I was on track for higher level rugby, so we’ve been talking about it for a while.”
It’s been over a year since he won 7s and 15s National Championships with Belmont Shore and told RUGBYMag, “I want to be an Olympian in 2016. Make sure you tell Alex Magleby that.” And it’s been a grueling several weeks since Duechle applied for the WCAP.
He had many hurdles to clear on his way to Chula Vista. The first was getting an invite from Eagles coach Matt Hawkins.
“I’m just sitting at my computer typing away, and I get that email from my Air Force coach,” said Duechle, harkening back to the moment he learned Hawkins wanted him at the OTC. “It felt like the culmination of a lot of hard work paid off. I was really, really excited at that moment.”
Then Duechle had to apply for the WCAP and run the plan through his chain of command.
“I was pretty worried. There’s no guarantees, especially with the way the government’s going right now and the budget being limited,” said Duechle of the application process. “Everyone thought it was amazing, but no one’s ever done it before, so every step of the way, people were like, ‘don’t get your hopes up.’”
First a Commander had to sign off on Duechle joining the WCAP, and then a General. Both did.
“Everyone saw the magnitude of the opportunity…They saw how unique it was, and everyone was like, ‘Hope you make it to the Olympics, so we can say we knew an Olympian or say we were part of the process.’”
Until September 20, Duechle thought he was being deployed to Qatar on September 23. A week later he moved to Chula Vista to get started while his paperwork is finished.
“Once the paperwork is done, they release me from my career field, release me from my current job and put me under Air Force Sports, and I’ll be working for them, and their direction is go with the National Team and conquer,” Duechle said.
His current job let him go early so he could start training, and Duechle needs every day of that he can get. He hasn’t been playing a lot of rugby, and he’s got to get into 7s shape.
“Fitness has always been my issue,” he said. “I was always in good shape, but 7s shape, I always felt a few steps behind, but now that I’m full-time, I think in six weeks I’ll be ready to go.”
Duechle’s immediate goal is to make the developmental team for NACRA 7s in Bermuda and Coral Coast 7s in Fiji in November, as well as an event in South Africa. He hopes to be competing for a spot on the World Series roster by January.