Johannesburg - Is it possible for an athlete to successfully transition from one sport to another?
Not many have done it, and those who have, haven’t always been successful.
But there is one athlete who is determined to make his transition a success.
Having become one of very few rugby players in history to successfully transition from rugby to popular American sport, the National Football League (NFL), Christian Wade is determined to make a name for himself in his new sport.
The former Red Rose and Wasps English rugby legend now plays at NFL team the Buffalo Bills under the stewardship of head coach Sean McDermott.
While Wade has been with the Bills for some time, he is yet to get his first run-out for the team.
But he is confident that his time will come soon, having had to nurse a shoulder injury recently.
The Saturday Star caught up exclusively with Wade to chat about his transition from rugby to the NFL.
How does it feel to be inducted in to the Wasps Hall of Fame?
I’m still in shock to be honest. I was surprised when I got the news, I never thought this would happen to me. I am so thankful to Wasps for investing in me and allowing me the opportunity to have an impact on the team for all those years. With such a strong legacy of Wasps legends, it’s an honour to claim a seat at the table with some of the GOAT’s of rugby.
Were you surprised at all when you received the news that you would be inducted?
Yes, very much so. I still don’t think the news has fully sunk in. Nearer the time when the ceremony takes place I think I will be completely overwhelmed with emotion.
How would you sum up your time at the Wasps specifically?
My time at Wasps was nothing short of sensational! I was there for my whole career from 16 years old in the academy. Two years later, I signed my first full time professional contract. There has been many ups and downs, but a lot more ups than downs. That’s what has made the journey so sensational. The memories are endless, the relationships are endless and I will always have love for wasps. All Wasps fans around the world know this saying “Once a Wasp, Always a Wasp”.
Do you have a favourite moment during your time at the Wasps?
I have so many great memories from my time at Wasps that I wouldn’t know where to start. However, there are a few moments that stand out. I remember our 2012/13 season when Tom Varndell and I finished joint top try scorer with 13 tries a piece - you’ll have to ask Varndell how we managed to achieve that.
Another great memory is when we sold out Adam’s Park (Wasps former stadium) when playing against Leinster in the Quarter Final of the European Cup. I was fortunate enough to score 2 tries that game which helped to solidify a spot on the British & Irish Lions Squad of 2013.
I also remember playing in my first London Double Header which was held every year at The home of English Rugby, Twickenham Stadium. We were up against Saracens who at the time were our biggest rival and they had been crowned Champions of the league the previous year. We went on to beat them which set the tone for our season; a memorable moment for sure. We felt like world beaters!
You took the decision to leave rugby to pursue an NFL career. Do you have any regrets?
Not at all. I think rugby is an incredible game. It gave me a great foundation in professional sport and was the launchpad for my success as an athlete. Ultimately, I reached a stage in my career where I needed a new challenge. I was intrigued by France, Japan and even the Southern Hemisphere. The NFL also became an option in the form of the NFL Player Pathway Program. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and I didn’t want to look back over my sporting career and have any regrets, so I made the final decision and I was on my way.
How would you sum up your time with the Buffalo Bills so far? And how much do you look forward to running out onto the field and playing your first NFL game?
My time with the Bills has been a whirlwind of emotions but nonetheless I have had an amazing time so far. Built some great relationships with players, staff and coaches and definitely created some great memories as a team. In my three years we achieved back to back undefeated pre-season record, divisional champions for two years running and our first AFC Championship appearance since the early 90s. This is the highest level of elite sport in the world. It’s such an honour to be able to represent the badge. It’s powerful. I’ve learnt so much from my peers, they’re all superstars and that’s what I love about the league. We’ve all made it to the top and now we’re just waiting for our opportunity to shine. That’s exactly where my mindset is. The unspoken truth is… that opportunity may never come but whatever happens I’m here for it all. Rain, sun or snow… let’s go!
You are recovering from a shoulder injury currently. What are your plans for the year?
Yes, I’ve been on injury reserve this season. I’m currently preparing for the upcoming season. Voluntary off season training starts towards the end of April 2022.
No one has ever been able to do what you have done, which is move from rugby to the NFL. Even though you are yet to play. Do you consider the move a big success?
Yes 100%. It’s not always about what happens on the field that determines success. The lessons I’ve learnt, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had… it’s all unmatched! You can’t compare it. It has pushed me to grow as an athlete and as a man in ways I couldn’ t have imagined.
What are the big differences you have had to make when moving from rugby to the NFL?
Sitting in meetings all day. And I mean all day. The attention to detail is crazy but it’s definitely necessary. This was a big adjustment as Rugby doesn’t have extensive play-books to learn and most of the game play is free flowing. I thought I knew what it was to be a student of the game in Rugby but coming to the NFL showed me differently. Like Meek Mill said, “There’s levels to this… ”
You have some wonderful memories of playing in South Africa during your time as a rugby player. Tell us about them…
Of course. I love South Africa. My first time in SA was on the England u18s South Africa Tour in 2007. I then returned in 2009 with England 7s for George 7s tournament where we won the Plate Championship and I finished top try scorer of the tournament alongside William Ryder. I was 19 at the time. In 2012 I was chosen to go on tour with England National team after an awesome debut season as a Wasps Starter. I featured in 2 midweek games and scored 5 tries in total (top try scorer on tour). It doesn’t stop there, I later returned to SA again in 2016 for an England Saxons Tour.
So many great memories to mention, not to mention the people of South Africa, the culture, the food. I’ve definitely got a special place for South Africa in my heart.
Who inspires you?
Personally I’m inspired by my parents. They’ve sacrificed so much for both my younger brother and I. My mum has always been the anchor for our family keeping everything together. She sacrificed her own career to make sure that she could devote her whole life to raising both my brother and I.
My dad has also been an absolute rock for our family, continually leading by example through all life’s challenges. Teaching us strong values and principles daily. He is a faith based man, extremely smart and well educated. Without their combined support, love, discipline and teachings, I couldn’t even imagine where I would be today.
What was the motivation behind transitioning from a rugby player to an NFL player?
I needed a new challenge, I wanted to test myself against the best athletes in the world and what better place to do that than in the NFL.
Do you firmly believe that you have what it takes to cut it in the NFL?
100% and I’ve proved that with the little opportunities I’ve had so far. I’m just waiting for the next opportunity to arise. I stay ready so I don’t have to get ready!
What has life been like in the US?
It has been like a home away from home. I’m very privileged to have a wife who was born and raised in Queens, NY. She supports me in everything I do and it has been a huge load off my back to have her by my side always.
Is a return to rugby on the cards for you perhaps in the future?
I could never close the door on rugby completely but I’m born to compete, I’m born to entertain and right now, I still have unfinished business and more history to write.