written by Sheila Miller
Eric Duechle is a fan of yoga. He meditates twice a day and likes to spend his time in a sensory deprivation tank, connecting his body and mind and achieving a zen state. He also plays professional rugby.
He wants you to know these two things—seeking enlightenment and smashing into his opponents in what can appear at times to be a frightfully violent game—are not exclusive.
“‘We’re gentlemen who play a ruffian sport.’ That’s what Winston Churchill said,” Duechle, 32, explained, further proving that contact sports don’t create meatheads.
Duechle is an Air Force veteran and was a two-time USA Rugby Club 7s champion in 2012 and 2015, and played on a number of other national teams. Today, he plays flanker for the Seattle Seawolves in Major League Rugby, a professional league of nine teams (eight in the U.S. and one
Duechle was awarded academic scholarships to attend the Air Force Academy, and planned to walk on the football team there. But as a high school student in Kentucky, he liked playing sports every season, and senior year, his off-season options were lacrosse or rugby.
“I’d never heard of it, so I popped in a VHS tape from the World Cup and was blown away by the style,” he said. “It’s just like football, except you’re on offense and defense the whole time. When I started playing, I had success immediately, which was very encouraging. It was the more fun sport for me.” Duechle is a flanker—basically the rugby equivalent of a linebacker and a running back.
He also loved the community he found in rugby. “We all sit down and eat dinner together after the game,” he said. “We never did that when I played football in high school. It’s very different how we celebrate each other.”
At the Air Force Academy, he played football his first semester, then switched to the rugby team. He’s never looked back.
Staying game-ready at 32 is no easy feat, so Duechle does a lot of additional training beyond the team requirements.
Four days each week the team holds on-field training for 1½ hours, going through game play and tactics. The team also has three strength and conditioning sessions each week, with a focus on power and speed—lifts such as squats, bench press and deadlifts.
On his own, Duechle supplements these workouts with a mobility program called Supple Leopard. The program, created by Dr. Kelly Starrett, focuses on stretching and body manipulation and is popular among Crossfit athletes. Each day, Duechle takes fifteen minutes to stretch and focus on parts of his body using the method.
In 2016, Duechle hurt his lower back and had to stop playing for two years. “It came from me neglecting my body,” he said. “I just didn’t do what it was asking me to do.”
He also does yoga once each week and soaks in a sensory deprivation tank regularly, both of which help him relax and recover, both in body and mind. All of this extra work has resulted in fewer injuries than when he was in his late 20s.
“Now my body is teaching me what to do,” he said. “When I decided to come back, I decided, ‘If I do this, I have to do it the right way, or I might as well not.”
One other thing he prefers about rugby to his years playing football—fewer head injuries. Tackling in rugby is different, requiring a player to hold his opponent down, not knock him down. That means no diving. And because players don’t wear helmets, Duechle said, they’re less likely to lead with their heads. “No one wants to take a head-to-head collision.”
The season runs through early June. Then, Duechle has plans for the off-season.
“I’m going to focus on building strength and a bit more size,” he said. “I’m going to focus on the process, how do I stay healthy, so that it’s not something to fine tune once we’re in season. And I’m going to relax and enjoy life a bit.”
Player and CEO of Homeless Nonprofit Startup Seattle Compassion
Hometown: Erlanger, Kentucky
Current city: Seattle
“I’m big into the Paleo diet, and the blood type diet. The theory is that each blood type digests food differently, and so for me, the O blood type is perfect for paleo. It’s what we were meant to do. … There are several types of dairy that don’t go well for me, and I try to avoid eating too much gluten, but I don’t completely cut it out. … I eat more vegetables, fruits and lean meats,
and I don’t eat pork.”
Four 1½-hour team on-field workouts and three strength and conditioning workouts each week. Yoga, Supple Leopard workouts, and time in the sensory deprivation tank round out his workouts.
“I love being in the flow state—that state where you’re completely focused and you are in love with what you’re doing and you’re creating your art. It’s kind of like having that childlike mind, where you’re just living and enjoying and producing, and I feel that with rugby.”