From Eagle to Astronaut

Anne McClain recounts two fundamental character traits that she developed while playing for the Women’s Eagles that help her in her current role as a NASA astronaut.

One of the more unique things about playing sports are the character building traits that develop over time. Sports inevitably promote success both as an athlete and as an individual. Playing rugby is no exception. Anne McClain recounts two fundamental character traits that she developed while playing for the Women's Eagles that help her in her current role as a NASA astronaut.

McClain has a unique journey as an Eagle. She started playing with the Women's National Team in 2002 and earned her first international cap at the 2004 Churchill Cup. It was clear that McClain was headed straight for the 2006 World Cup, a dream of hers since the beginning.  

However, right as she received her invitation to play in this international match, she also received orders to be deployed to Iraq for 15 months. Upon her return to the United States, McClain went back to playing rugby with the same determination to play at the World Cup.

Doing all the necessary things in preparation for the World Cup, McClain was feeling stronger and faster which led to her long-awaited invitation. 

However, just as before, fate intervened.

"Literally four days after I received the invitation from Pete Steinberg to play at the World Cup, I received a call from NASA that I was selected as an astronaut," said McClain.

Torn, but knowing that this was the one thing she would miss rugby for, McClain called Steinberg to resign. While it was disheartening not to be able to make an appearance at a Rugby World Cup, McClain credits rugby for her success in becoming an astronaut.

"I have come to realize that my rugby career experience was one of the factors that developed my character in such a way that I was selected as an astronaut," McClain said.

She recounts a specific question during an interview that she believes was one of the determining answers to being selected. 

"They asked what the take away was from my time playing on the national team. I remember explaining that at that time all the players were dispersed around the country. Therefore, when we would come together for a weekend to train or play, you had to trust that your teammates did the right things in preparation and that you did the right things as well." McClain recalls.

McClain said that the key to success is the preparation that you do when no one is looking. To her this easily translated into the characteristics you need to be a dependable crewmate and teammate.

The other key to success that McClain said led her to this point in her career was grit.

She explained how training in a spacesuit is exhausting. That it pushes each astronaut to the point that makes them want to stop, but as an astronaut, it is critical to keep going. 

"That is exactly like the sixtieth minute of a rugby match," McClain said relating it all back to rugby, "At this point, you are hurt, you are exhausted, and you feel like you have nothing left. But over time you learn that you have a reserve in there."

"That is exactly what I dip into on my current job," she concluded. Ann McClain will continue to implement what she learned from her time as an Eagle as she moves forward in her missions at NASA. Perhaps one day she will watch the World Cup at the International Space Station.

Anne McClain was honored during halftime of the USA Men's Eagles vs Scotland match in Houston on Saturday, June 16, 2018. She successfully landed in space on December 3, 2018.