To say Christian Wade’s decision to join the bursting ranks of the NFL was a brave one, would be a monumental understatement. At the age of 28 he’s far from an ageing sports star, but to change sporting professions completely, starting at the bottom of the pile, and, in such a nuanced a complex endeavour as American Football, is a mammoth task.
This is a man who has dominated his sport, scoring 82 premiership tries for Wasps, putting him third on the all-time list behind Mark Cueto and Tom Varndell.
He’s a British and Irish Lion after making the squad for the 2013 tour to Australia, but and this is more than likely the reason why he swapped a hugely successful career in Rugby for the NFL, he has consistently been overlooked by England, despite his obvious talents.
Joining the NFL as part of the International Player Pathway Programme, Wade has been training with the Buffalo Bills since July. The aim is to secure a spot on their 53 man squad for the new season, something he failed to do after the announcements were made last weekend.
And, it’s really no surprise. For Wade to have managed to make the Bills roster, would have been tantamount to Joe Root getting drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Perhaps a tad extreme, but you get the point.
He did, however, become a viral sensation after scoring a remarkable touchdown albeit in the preseason warmups. The familiar sight of Wade’s blistering pace aside, possibly the most promising aspect of that moment is the enthusiastic response of his teammates, which suggest if nothing else he’s made a huge impact on his colleagues.
With the ball in hand and green grass in front of him, Christian Wade, as many Wasps, fans will attest is an unstoppable force. With blistering pace and a mean sidestep, he has the raw tools to excel as running back in the NFL.
However, the complexities of the sport run far deeper, something that Wade will only acclimatise to and understand through on-field experience, something few coaches would risk in the high stakes of the season proper.
The challenge has been described as like “going back to school”, and for now Wade will continue with Buffalo Bills in the practice squad. He’s doing everything right and has managed to make an impact on the wider American sporting public, particularly after his scintillating touchdown. Here’s hoping a year of solid practice and learning the playbook results in Wade making next years squad.
Of course, he’s not the first sporting star to move professions. Most recently James Haskell has announced his decision to enter the world of Mixed Martial Arts and is set to fight for Bellator MMA. The great Denis Compton was a multi-sport athlete playing football for Arsenal and representing England in addition to his illustrious cricketing achievements.
Ian Botham, another English cricketing hero also played football for Yeovil and Scunthorpe. Across the pond, Michael Jordan famously switched from his legendary status in the NBA to take on the immense challenge of succeeding in Major League Baseball.
But, there are also some incredibly successful sports stars, household names, that were multi-sport athletes. Let’s take a look at some of those rather talented folk that were always on the lookout for the next challenge.
Sonny Bill Williams (Boxing)
The cross-code rugby star is set to appear in his third World Cup for New Zealand in Japan, injuries permitting. He’s already won the tournament on the previous two occasions in 2011 and 2015, having started life as a Rugby League player. He’s also represented New Zealand Sevens in the 2016 Olympics.
And, if all that was not enough, in 2009 Williams decided to try his hand at Boxing. All in all, he had seven professional fights at Heavyweight winning 4 by unanimous decision and 3 by way of knockout. In the process, he became the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association Heavyweight Champion and the WBA International Heavyweight Champion. As multi-sport athletes go Williams is up there.
Jonty Rhodes (Hockey)
Former South African cricket star Jonty Rhodes is widely recognised as the greatest fielder of all time. His tenacious and enthusiastic performances in the field changed the way many viewed the role and as batsmen averaging 35 in both test matches and ODI’s Rhodes enjoyed a successful career between 1992 and 2003.
But, what’s less widely known is that Rhodes was also a top-level Hockey player. He was part of South Africa’s 1992 Olympic games squad for Barcelona and were it not for injury, he would have competed for a place in the preliminary squad for Atlanta in 1996.
Manny Pacquiao (Basketball)
Considered by many pundits and fans alike to be one of the greatest boxers of all time, the Philippine is a genuine global superstar. No fighter in the history of the sport has won world titles in more weight classes than Manny Pacquiao, eight to be exact. Only this summer at the grand old age of 40 Pacquiao defeated Keith Thurman to win the WBA (Super) Welterweight title.
On top of this he’s heavily involved in politics in his homeland, once pursued a music carer and has also tried his hand at acting. But, in a land where the Pacman is revered with almost God-like status, he turned his hand to Basketball, representing the KIA Motors Basketball Team in 2014 and was the 11th pick in the first round of the draft.
Victoria Pendleton (Horse Racing)
Pendleton is one of Britain’s most successful female Olympians having won two Gold medals and one Silver at both the Beijing and London Olympics. She also won nine world titles during her time on the track, becoming a dominant figure in the sport between 2005 and 2012.
Since her retirement, however, Pendleton announced her decision to become a Jockey, with the intention of competing in the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. A feat she achieved in March 2016, finishing a remarkable fifth place, only twelve months after first getting on a horse.
Adam Gemili (Football)
Sprint star Adam Gemili will be hoping he brings home a medal when he competes at the World Athletic Championships in Doha later this month. He’ll be representing Great Britain in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.
Gemili holds the record of being the first Briton to run sub 10 seconds in the 100m (9.97) and sub 20 seconds in the 200m (19.97), a quite remarkable feat when you consider the great British sprinters of yesteryear.
However, it was football that looked the likely path for a young Gemili, as he spent 7 years in Chelsea’s youth academy. A spell at Reading followed before Gemili actually turned out for Dagenham and Redbridge when they occupied a spot in League Two.
Andy Goram (Cricket)
Andy Goram is widely considered one of the greatest goalkeepers in Scottish football history. Rangers fans certainly hold a special place in their heart for the man they affectionately called ‘The Goalie’, and throughout the nineties, he became a key figure in a successful Rangers side.
In fact, he played each game in the inaugural Champions League as Rangers narrowly missed out on the final to Marseille. Despite his goalkeeping heroics, Goram was a talented cricketer who represented Scotland on four occasions and holds the distinction of being the only person to represent Scotland at both cricket and football at full international level.
Curtis Woodhouse (Boxing)
Former Sheffield United and Birmingham City midfielder Curtis Woodhouse, who also represented England at Under-21 level was destined for the top of game back in the late nineties and is on record as being Sheffield United’s youngest ever captain, performing the role at just 19 years of age.
Off the field issues, bar fights, scraps and scrapes have often lurked just around the corner for Woodhouse. And so, with his penchant for a dust-up, it was hardly a surprise when he walked away from the game in 2006 to become a professional boxer. In 2014 he became the British light-welterweight champion, beating Darren Hamilton on a split decision, to add his name to the pantheon of multi-sport athletes.
Katie Taylor (Football)
Without doubt, Katie Taylor is a woman at the top of her profession. In women’s boxing, Taylor is at the top of the game, but that only tells you part of the story. In terms of pure boxing skill and IQ, Taylor is simply outstanding. 18 gold medals at European, World and Olympic level tell you everything you need to know about an incredibly successful amateur career.
But, what many don’t know is Taylor’s sporting talent wasn’t reserved solely for the ring, she also had a successful football career. At only 15 years old Taylor was already representing the Republic of Ireland at Under 19 level. In 2006 she made her debut for the senior side in a World Cup qualifier. In total Taylor made 11 appearances scoring 2 goals.
A notable mention to other multi-sport athletes must surely go to tennis legend Fred Perry who as well as being a tennis superstar, became table tennis world champion in 1929. And another sporting great who deserves recognition is iconic cricketer Viv Richards who represented Antigua and Barbuda’s football team in the 1974 World Cup Qualifying rounds.
Any multi-sport athletes we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Click the banner to share on Facebook