How Phaidra Knight is helping underserved youth through rugby

World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Phaidra Knight discusses the work being done by her non-profit, PeaK Unleashed, which promotes health and well-being to underserved youth through rugby and yoga.

It was during a visit to Rikers Island, the main jail complex in New York City, that Phaidra Knight witnessed the impact rugby could have on underserved youth.

“I had an opportunity a little over 10 years ago to work with some of the high school kids at the Rikers Island facility and taught them a little bit of rugby. We did a little bit of high-intensity interval training, and that for me was an incredible experience,” Knight told World Rugby.

“Everyone, I think, has a bit of good in them, and these kids just had a really rough start. You know, they didn't necessarily have the group of people surrounding them that some of us had. Or maybe we caught a break where they didn't. 

“But that was an eye opener to me that these kids need structure, they need discipline. They need people that care about them, and they need a community that cares about them. 

“What better thing [could I do] than bringing rugby to this population?”

Keeping connected

In January 2019, Knight founded PeaK Unleashed with the aim of doing exactly that. The non-profit organisation, which she describes as her “passion project”, aims to promote health and well-being through rugby and yoga.

The programme caters primarily for youth at detention centres, with non-contact rugby sessions and yoga classes designed to “help young people develop positive behaviours”.

“We get a little yin and yang, you know,” Knight explained. “We'll blow it out with rugby and then we'll take it down several notches and go inside with a little yoga. 

“And we found that to be an incredible combination for these kids.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 meant that World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Knight and her colleagues at PeaK Unleashed have been unable to visit the facilities in person during the pandemic. 

However, the organisation has provided remote programming, such as rugby challenges and yoga videos, for its participants. PeaK also distributed much-needed PPE for the young people it supports.

“The important message that we want to send to them is that we're thinking about them, that we really care about them, that we miss them,” Knight explained.

“We've been able to support them and stay connected. You know, the staff in these facilities, they're exhausted, they're overworked, they're understaffed. 

“And so we are just trying to support them and these kids as much as possible in the ways that they need it.”

MMA silver lining

Knight, who serves on the USA Rugby Board of Directors, had also been busy with another passion project prior to the pandemic. 

Last June, the 45-year-old began full-time mixed martial arts training at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York, with a view to competing in the sport.

Her ring debut in a Muay Thai event had been “tentatively” scheduled for May, but was cancelled due to COVID-19. Knight was able to keep up her training during lockdown in East Hampton, however, and is hopeful that a bout can be set up before the end of the year.

“The goal is to be as competitive as I can. So, you know, the sky's the limit in that,” she said.

“I do some virtual coaching sessions with a couple of my coaches. I lift and do all of my strength and conditioning here, and so, it's not ideal, but it is ideal for the circumstances right now. 

“My training has been pretty seamless in terms of content continuity. And certainly, again, I'm not working with my coaches on a daily basis, but I'm able to focus-in on some of the basic skills and foundational work that I hadn't really done when I started. 

“So, I think you’ve got to take the silver lining out of it. That certainly has been it for me.”

READ MORE: Carpenter: We aspire to win out in USA v Canada rivalry

Last updated: Jun 19, 2020 7:45:57 AM
England v New Zealand - Rugby World Cup 2019: Semi-Final
World rankings Women's Men's Feature News Women in Rugby
The World Rugby Rankings in numbers
We take a look at some of the eye-catching numbers from the World Rugby Rankings in both the men’s and women’s game.
Photo of captain Babalwa Latsha playing for South Africa against Scotland
Feature News Women in Rugby women-news-power
Flying the flag for women’s rugby: Babalwa Latsha, the first African women’s player to go professional
Springbok women’s captain Babalwa Latsha made history when she became the first African women’s rugby player to turn professional in January 2020. Here she shares her rugby journey and hopes for the growth and development of the women’s game.
Rio 2016: France and Spain women run out at Deodoro Stadium on day one
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
Rugby at the Olympics: Creating sevens history at Rio 2016
Patricia Garcia, Jade Ulutule and Pierre Gilles Lakafia talk to World Rugby about Rio 2016 and their roles in the first men’s and women’s sevens matches to be played at an Olympic Games.
World Rugby logo - one to use for generic releases
Media release Women's Men's News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory
International rugby set to resume in October as World Rugby Council approves temporary 2020 COVID-19 calendar
An exciting programme of international matches is set to take place later this year after the World Rugby Council approved a temporary adjustment to Regulation 9 to accommodate the release of international players for revised 2020 windows.
Men's Media release Women's Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory Challenger Series wr-covid19
Plans revised for HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021
World Rugby and its partners are continuing to focus on planning for the 2021 Series and the build-up to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which are now less than one year away
HSBC Sydney Sevens 2020 - Women's
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
One Year To Go: Japan hope to establish sevens culture through Tokyo 2020
Kensuke Iwabuchi and Hitoshi Inada talk to World Rugby about their hope that the Olympic Games will leave a lasting legacy of sevens in Japan.
Barbarians Women Training
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021
Wales and Bristol Bears’ Elinor Snowsill on life as a gay woman in rugby
The fly-half opens up about her journey through the game and states why “it’s still really important” to talk about LGBTQ+ issues today.
Iran - Germany women
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-regions
How women are changing the game in Iranian rugby
We take a look at the history of rugby union in Iran, a country where more women play the sport than men.
Rugby - Olympics: Day 6
Olympics Women's Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
One Year To Go: Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020
As the countdown to the Tokyo Olympic Games begins in earnest, we take a look at the frontrunners, the most-improved teams and those set to make their debut.
World Rugby logo - one to use for generic releases
Media release Women's Men's News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory
World Rugby Executive Committee recommends 2020 temporary COVID-19 international calendar
The World Rugby Executive Committee has today recommended a revised temporary 2020 international calendar with the express objective of optimising recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels.