Full Contact CEO Captain America Mini-Series

Kate Zackary is not only a menace on the pitch for the Eagles and Exeter Chiefs, but she’s also a coach and balances a marketing career with a company all the way in San Francisco while she lives in England. She lets Mags in on the secret to balancing everything in her life as well as the importance of communication and strong leadership.

Catching up with Kate Zackary

At the time of recording, we find the USA Rugby Captain and Exeter Chiefs back-rower sitting in her home office in between training sessions. She’s just under a year out from the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand which had been delayed a year due to Covid. 

Kate grew up in Kansas and moved around here and there with the majority of her upbringing in the Great Planes. Before rugby came into the picture she played soccer nonstop. Her goal was to play sports in college but she didn’t realize it would be rugby that would end up dominating her time. 

It was her freshman-year roommate that started playing rugby for fun, Kate herself couldn’t play because she had her soccer obligations but she enjoyed the social side of the sport. It wasn’t until her senior year that she started playing.

Competitive team sports have been everything for Kate so after college it was imperative she was a part of something that wasn’t just beer league softball. 

In 2013 she started playing more regularly and competitively with a regional team.

Fast forward to 2014, Kate was owning a gym but was invited to a USA camp with a lot of crossover athletes. Plenty of track runners, even a bobsledder. Still unsure where rugby will lead her, Kate returns to Kansas and the gym and kind of, goes on with her life, playing rugby casually. 

Joining Up With The USA Sevens Program in Chula Vista

It was probably due to Kate’s freak of nature athletic ability that led her to land a contract with the USA Sevens squad. 

“I want you to come out to Chula Vista, can you move here in three weeks? Talk to your loved ones and let me know what you think.”

It was a six-month contract and luckily Kate’s work was very supportive. 

“I didn’t intend on lasting longer than six months.” Kate packed her bags and took it as an open opportunity. But what she realized is that she didn’t pack enough believing she would only last that short period of time. 

It wasn’t until the spring of 2015 when Kate got her first Sevens cap. She ran into a bit of injury trouble but managed to get healthy for the Atlanta Sevens in March 2015.

From there Kate found herself trying to make it onto an Olympic team, a Rugby World Cup in 2017, and very quickly, rugby started to become everything. 

Meanwhile, her business in Kansas, a gym she had put together, was still functioning but as soon as she realized after a successful year of rugby that this was the way forward she decided to move on from it.

Working on the Side

Kate started refereeing indoor soccer in San Diego for two years while she was playing professional rugby, something she used to do back in college. As Kate put it, and I think as many other female rugby players will know “the idea of hustling wasn’t foreign to me.”

She had to deal with a lack of sleep as well as intramural soccer players yelling at her while they failed to score goals. The reality is, she’s tougher than the players on that indoor pitch.

Kate is also currently working for a company based in San Francisco while she applies her trade for the Exeter Chiefs. So that means late nights and early mornings in the UK to make some of the West Coast hours.

She also coaches a local women’s club while in Exeter.

2017 Rugby World Cup and Beyond

Going into the World Cup the US team was poised to do well even with the speed bumps they had to deal with on the way. That included recruiting, putting together a coaching staff as well as getting a team together in one place.

They gathered players in Chula Vista and created a touring side from originally 50 women. They managed to make it to the Semi-Finals in Ireland where the stadiums were packed. The US came 4th in 2017.

Kate went on to Captain the 15s side for the first time against New Zealand in 2018. She explained she needed to find the right balance between leading and playing. But really she calls it a huge growth moment in her career and it challenged her and helped her at the same time. She also needed to work out how to communicate with multiple parties like her team, the coaches, the media, and of course the referee. 

The English Premiership

It was actually Covid that got Kate to pick up shop and move to the west country of England. It was an opportunity to play on a weekly basis against some of the best players in the world. The league is so successful in the UK because it follows a framework that already exists, there’s attachment to the men’s clubs, and the furthest she has to travel for an away game is 6 hours on the road. There’s also a high number of US Eagles playing in the UK right now too.

“So it’s as professional as a women’s contract can get currently. there’s offsetting of costs, whether it’s housing or other things like that. So there are a lot of benefits that clubs can offer. It just depends on where you are and what the club can provide. The biggest thing it gives you is a sense of security, which I think is at least coming from my standpoint, it helps me buy into the rugby more. Cause I know at the end of the day, I’m going to have food on the table, a roof over my head and someone who can look after me, and the chance to play of course.”https://open.spotify.com/episode/7wIZ48c5LbAZVK7EHcDTnM?si=25UcKczNTlul2iJeYvipVA

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