ORLANDO, Fla. – Several athletes competing in the Tokyo Summer Olympics trace their roots back to Central Florida – more specifically, The University of Central Florida.

What You Need To Know

  • Several athletes competing in the Tokyo Games are UCF Knights

  • Kristen Thomas is a member of Team USA's rugby team

  • Thomas previously played on UCF's club rugby team

One of these athletes, Kristen Thomas, said she never knew becoming a Knight would eventually lead her to becoming a member of Team USA's Rugby Sevens team.

Thomas arrived in Japan more than a week ahead of her team’s first scheduled game.

“It’s a little bit crazy to think about, especially with the year delay due to COVID," Thomas said. "But yeah, now that we’re here, it’s really exciting." 

She says when she gets on the field it’s game on.

“I’ve come to know these women and be friends with these women," Thomas said. "I want to play for them too, I want to make them proud, and make them happy that I’m on their team.”

Even now though, as a professional athlete, she can’t help looking back on where it all started at UCF.

“I knew that UCF had a rugby team, but I didn’t know anything about rugby, so I just kind of signed up for fun," Thomas said.

Her coach Raoul Besse describes her as a humble player.

 “She’d say ’Raoul, what can I do to get better?’ and I would tell her small drills or running, and she would do it and continually grow," Besse said.

Soon it became clear to him that her skills, and her character, would take her to the top.

“She’s very calm, she doesn’t really let emotions get the best of her," Besse said.

“I’m glad that I went to UCF and was able to…my first introduction to this sport was a very fun and a lighthearted one, where everyone was super welcoming," Thomas said. "They were just willing to teach me the sport.”​

The women’s rugby tournament starts on Wednesday at 8 p.m.