Column: San Diego Legion rugby players balance physical sport and unique worlds off the field

As San Diego Legion rugby players bounce around the weight benches and training areas at their team headquarters, you start to wonder if they could lift the machines too.

They are tough, sturdy humans built for close combat, with nothing to cushion the flurry of in-game blows beyond mental and physical armor.

On the pitch, they share scrums and crushing tackles. Other than that, however, their lives could hardly vary more in a sport where season paychecks land south of $30,000.

One is a software engineer working for a defense contractor, security clearance and all. Another runs a cafe. There’s the owner of a track lighting business, playing alongside a teammate with a lawn care operation of over 80 customers.

Like the Legion get ready to take on the Houston SaberCats at 4 p.m. Sunday, with playoff implications in tow at the SDSU Sports Deck, fascinating layers of life reside beneath all those muscles.

Chris Robshaw, a former England captain who remains a national star there, is also keeping tabs on the off-season menu and mochas. At Josie’sa cafe and brunch in Winchester, England.

“It was a lot of fun,” Robshaw said of the business about an hour and a half southwest of London. “It’s more interesting and exciting than putting money into stocks and that sort of thing. When you create something like that, it’s great when you see people enjoying it.

Robshaw is so revered that his former club, Harlequins, have named a popular drinking spot in the stadium, the Chris Robshaw Bar.

“I was pretty upset when they introduced him to me,” Robshaw said. “When I had to pour my first beer, it was a pretty terrible effort. I need a bit of practice before I get back behind the bar.

His teammate Nate Sylvia focuses on computer coding, more than cold beer.

The 2012 Mt. Carmel High School graduate works as a software engineer for Arorae Corporation, based in Tampa, Florida. What exactly does Sylvia do? This whole security clearance thing has him choosing his words carefully.

“I can’t really talk about some of these things, so it’s hard,” Sylvia said with a smile. “We’re doing Navy contracts right now.”

A sharp shift in sociology and a possible path from criminal justice to computer science triggered this unique employment situation.

Are people surprised to learn that a towering 260-pound rugby player is spending his time off the field unraveling complex computer coding for the US government?

“The majority of people are, I would say,” he said. “It’s a unique combination, but I consider myself lucky to have a job that I can do remotely while I’m still doing it. My biggest worry is that when I’m done with rugby you have six or seven years experience which would be difficult to find a job.

Navigating a sport that can transport you from continent to continent while keeping bank accounts healthy has pushed Tomas Aoake and his rugby partner, Grace, to get creative.

They opened Lawn Mowing Services in Kukutai three years ago in Auckland, New Zealand.

Grace, who is currently playing in Japan, takes care of the administrative tasks. Aoake makes sure an employee has all the necessary tools until they step in during the offseason.

However, lawn care expertise remains mostly a secret in San Diego.

“I haven’t really told many guys, otherwise I’ll have jobs everywhere,” Aoaoke joked.

Former University of Arizona rugby player Ryan Matyas owns and operates Oceanstone Architectural Lighting, a company that installs track lighting. The system is operated from a phone app that can change color schemes and intensity to suit moods and seasons.

Have a ladder, will travel.

“I appreciate that more than the practical work I did in New Zealand, I can tell you that,” said Matyas, the first player signed in Legion history. “I chalk that and 120 degree Arizona landscaping to character building.”

Comparing the satisfaction of a small moment of engineering in a rugby game to a commercial breakthrough has some similarities.

“There is no other feeling than scoring a try. It’s a separate category,” Matyas said. “But getting a big job is also exciting. Every job is like another game, really. You have a chance to prove yourself.

“It’s good to challenge myself outside of sport.”

The benefits for Legion players go beyond money.

“I like having things to focus on outside of the game,” Robshaw said. “You have to have this mental shift. If you only think about 24-7 rugby, it’s difficult. It’s good to have a little separation. Balance is extremely important.

In this sport, not all heavy work is physical.

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