In the face of adversity, the best response is to pull it together and focus on the next most important thing.
That’s a lesson that the Cal rugby program aims to instill in all those who don the blue and gold. But for Blaine Scully, who capped off his college career with the 2011 national title, that lesson was learned long before he stepped foot in Berkeley.
When Scully was six, his father unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
Reflecting on the life-altering event, Scully doesn’t focus on the pain of his loss. He instead talks about the strength of his mom.
At the time of her husband’s untimely death, Jan Scully was in the midst of her first campaign for Sacramento district attorney. Rather than abandon the campaign in her time of grief, she trudged onward. The mother of two became the first female in Sacramento elected to that post, where she is currently serving her fifth term. She has since made history as the first woman president of both the California and National District Attorneys Associations.
“It was one of those things where the wheels could have come off completely,” Blaine says. “Lost the only person she’d ever loved, but just wasn’t willing to give anybody anything and not let anything take it away from her.
“She was broken inside, but she kept together for the family and really for her city that she wanted to be a part of and help.”
It is with that same spirit that her firstborn approaches his own obstacles.
The now 24-year-old Scully accomplished some of his firsts before trouble hit. After graduating from Cal last spring, he began a stint with the US National Team, traveling across the globe for international competitions, including the Rugby World Cup.
Less than a year removed from playing college ball, Scully was offered one of the first-ever contracts from USA Rugby to play sevens, the version of the sport being reintroduced in the 2016 Olympics.
Just when Scully was hitting his stride, he lost his footing. At a national team practice on March 18, Scully was back-pedaling when he decided to shift gears and go forward. He felt a pop and turned to see if someone kicked him.
He looked down, his foot dangling. “I knew it was my Achilles, and I knew it was gone,” he says.
In an instant, six months were robbed from the rising star. But Scully didn’t focus on his losses. He was too busy planning his recovery.
Within 24 hours, he had a surgically repaired Achilles and a plan. Immediately he phoned Cal rugby coach Tom Billups and got very clear instructions: “Come home.”
After a few weeks recovering from surgery, Scully left the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., to return to Berkeley. Billups, a certified strength and conditioning coach, crafted a specialized day-by-day training regimen and set Scully up with a physical therapist in the Cal sports medicine department. All efforts were coordinated to get Scully back to “battle mode.”
Scully does intense upper body and cardiovascular workouts three times a week with Billups at the new, pristine Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance.
With a boot on his foot and a smile on his face, Scully maximizes impact in a short period of time, getting limited rest between intervals to recover. He feeds off that constant pressure to get over the strain of an exercise and move on to the next one, a physical sign of his mental toughness.
“What’s done is done, and all I can do is worry about getting better every day and taking advantage of every day,” he says.
Scully’s upbeat attitude through a down time in his athletic career is a testament to his resilience, a trait he attributes to his mother. But like her, he took it a step further: Scully turned his setback into an opportunity to give back to his Cal rugby family.
In addition to training, Scully spends his days in the Doc Hudson Fieldhouse with Billups and Cal coach Jack Clark.
With the Olympic rings soon to be associated with sevens rugby in 2016, the national 15s powerhouse is incorporating more of a focus on the sevens game. In addition to stressing last weekend’s Collegiate Rugby Sevens Championships, the Bears are slated to play a handful of sevens tournaments in the fall before gearing up for the spring 15s season.
One of the nation’s elite sevens players, Scully brings his experience on the international circuit back to the Fieldhouse, acting as an advisor to the Cal program.
“He has some insights into the game that are very unique player insights,” Clark says. “It’s what the player is feeling, what the player sees happening to them on the field. That’s pretty invaluable to us as coaches to have Blaine’s input, to be able to bounce ideas off of him and then hear his ideas.
“He’s just such a positive presence.”
His former Cal teammates look to Scully for tips about the intricacies of the game and tough workouts. His quiet presence on the sidelines presents a stark contrast to Clark and Billups’ more involved and vocal style of coaching, but his teaching moments extend after formal practice ends.
The players joke that their former captain now dresses more like Clark than like them, but they recognize the differences. They value the opportunity to talk to someone with the fresh experiences on rugby’s biggest stages.
Beyond the pearls of wisdom Scully can impart about the game, he acts as an example of unflagging determination.
“I’ve never met someone in my life that’s worked harder day in and day out than Blaine,” says Cal captain Seamus Kelly.
Scully may serve as a role model for up-and-coming ruggers, but his hero is more comfortable in a courtroom than on the pitch. Like his mother, Blaine gives his all even when it may seem he has the least to give. It is in moments of weakness that he finds tremendous strength.
“She’s as tough as they come, “ Scully says. “That’s kind of where I draw all my inspiration from. Obviously from my coaches, but it starts with her.”