Officially the highest-paid female American footballer of all time, 29-year-old Santia Deck negotiated plenty of bumps in the road to find herself where she is today. Injuries devastated her early dream of becoming a professional track athlete and later ended her hope of trying out for the Tokyo Olympic US Rugby sevens squad. However, her sporting career finally fell into place when she was headhunted in 2019 by Los Angeles Fames owner, Lupe Rose, to play American football in the new Women’s Football League Association (the women’s equivalent of the NFL) in a history-making, multimillion-dollar deal.
Behind the scenes, Santia was already several years into building her business empire, first as a fitness trainer and social media expert, and more recently as the CEO of her sneaker brand, TRONUS (in the process becoming the first female athlete to own their own sneaker brand.)
While Covid has put the launch of the WFLA on the backburner for now, Santia’s training hasn’t stopped, and in this Q&A, we discuss how she went from star track athlete to history-making American footballer and company CEO.
Rewinding a lot, how did the injury you picked up as a track athlete lead you to try flag football and, later, rugby sevens?
Pretty much after I got injured in track – which was right after I’d graduated from college when I thought I was going to go pro in track – I was looking for something to fill the void of no longer being a track and field athlete. I was driving one day, and I randomly came across a flag football try-out, which I went to and ended up doing amazing. The coach was like, “Man, how long have you been playing football?” and I told him I’d never played football. That kind of led to me breaking records, making the national team for flag football, going viral a few times. So it was definitely a big part of why I am where I am now.
How I got on the rugby Olympic journey was, I was going viral for flag football and ended up getting the attention of a USA rugby coach at that time. I got invited out to a try-out. Unfortunately, the coach got fired when I got there, so I did not end up making that team, but a few years later, I decided to learn how to play rugby. I went to a practice, and honestly, maybe a few weeks after that, the coach was like, ‘Man, you should just get on the Olympic journey”, and that’s kind of what I did. It was like an opportunity that led to another opportunity that led to another opportunity!
You then spent 2019 in prep for 2020 Olympic qualification until you became injured. This must have been devastating?
2019 was honestly one of the hardest years of my life. I was on the Olympic journey for rugby, and I burnt myself out so quickly. I was literally travelling around the world trying to learn the game of rugby because I was so new to it. I wanted to learn so that I could get in front of the USA coach and have a chance of making the team, but I wasn’t resting. I went to a tournament in Vegas and ended up straining my hamstring, but I was still like, ‘I wanna make this team’, even though the doctors had advised against it. They told me I needed to rest. I said “OK”, then I hopped on a plane to New Zealand [to play]. Being burnt out in injury messed up my whole opportunity with rugby.
Not long after that, you got a pretty life-changing call from Lupe Rose to play for the WFLA. Can you tell us about this?
When I got the call from Lupe Rose, I was at the movie theatre with my friend. I remember my mom kept calling my phone. I was like, why is she calling me so much? She knows I’m at the movies! But usually, when your family is calling you back-to-back, you think something bad has happened, so I ended up stepping out of the movie theatre [to take the call]. My mom told me, ‘You need to sit down, I’ve just got a call from Lupe and you’re not going to believe this.’ Then she told me the offer that Lupe made me, and I was honestly just in shock. If you knew what I was going through prior to that call, you would understand why it was so crazy. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and it made me the highest-paid female football player in history.
Can you explain a bit about the WFLA and what it is?
For those who don’t know much about the WFLA, it’s called the Women’s Football League Association. It’s the first league that pays women millions of dollars to play, and it’s the first of its kind. So when I got Lupe’s offer, I was not only excited because of the number [I was being offered] but because I was going to be making a step change in history.
The WFLA was due to be launched last year, but Covid got in the way. How has this affected your training?
I’ve continued to train super-hard; I just haven’t been able to train the way I would have, had I known the date for our first game. But honestly, you never stop training as an athlete, so I’ve been running, lifting weights, doing speed and agility, learning the running back position and [learning] the receiver position even more.
What physical traits are important for your position of running back?
Being a running back, physically, you must be super, super-agile, someone that’s able to really get low. You don’t have to have a low centre of gravity – I just happen to be short! But you do have to be able to get low, be able to cut on a dime, be able to switch directions really quickly. [It suits] someone who is more compact and quick and fast and explosive. Honestly, I kind of embody all of that. So I kind of got lucky!
Tell us a bit about your training?
I train like an NFL player. That’s probably the best way to explain it. I lift heavy weights. I also do bodyweight [training] sometimes. I do ladder training and cone and hurdle training, so just drills, period. I might do a lot of explosive and resistance training so I can become more explosive. I do a lot of sled work. I do have track training, so I still do what I do on the track as well, to keep my speed up. And I’m doing recovery. I made the mistake of not recovering when I was playing rugby, but I’m taking care of my body a lot better than I ever have in my life, to be honest.
You’re a qualified trainer. Do you still train or coach clients?
I am a qualified trainer, but I do not train in person anymore. I trained for about four years professionally as a certified trainer, but I decided to do online training when my business started to explode, and I got busy with sports. I do have a fitness app right now called Coach Queen of Abs, which is for anybody looking for custom meal plans and custom workouts. It’s not generic where everybody gets the same workout and meal plan; I really customise it for everybody – athletes, everyday people, moms, dads, kids, whatever.
I imagine your track background gives you an edge but were there any learning curves in going from track sprinter to footballer?
The learning curve I had in the transition from track to football is, honestly, just getting used to being hit. And then also with flag football, it was definitely learning to use my hips more because I was so used to running in a straight line! Also, being a team player. I might have run in a relay [in track], but it’s different when your entire team depends on you and your energy and your effort. There really is no ‘I’ in football. In track, you can be an individual person for the most part, but football taught me about camaraderie and working as a team. And just getting used to the contact; getting used to being physical. I just wasn’t used to that, coming from a non-contact world.
And then, of course, learning plays, learning the playbook, remembering plays… In track, you’ve just got to remember how to set up your blocks and your markers, things like that. In football, you have to learn the playbook, learn the positions. So that was a big learning curve for me.
Away from sport, you run your own sneaker company. Tell us about your brand, TRONUS, and what inspired it?
TRONUS was an opportunity that turned into an opportunity. I was a brand ambassador for another shoe company, and I was killing selling their shoes. The designer asked me one day if I’d ever thought about having my own shoe. I was like, yeah, who hasn’t? I’ve always been a sneakerhead. So I talked about the kind of shoe I would want, and he offered me a signature line under that brand at the time. I said I wanted a Balenciaga mixed with a Jordan, and I wanted it to be just like a fashionable shoe, but sporty. We talked about how I wanted it to look, he literally did a mock-up version of it, and it was perfect. I posted it on Instagram, and it went crazy. Everybody loved it, everybody wanted the shoe, even though it was an idea.
Next, he suggested I should do a signature line with more than one shoe. And so we talked about the colours. Once he’d made a mock-up version of all the shoes, I posted it again and it went viral on LinkedIn. So then my mom – who is also the COO of TRONUS and my manager – said we should just do a shoe company. And I was like, I don’t know. That would mean competing against Nike and Adidas and all these big dog companies. And she was like, ‘You can do it.’ My mom always thinks I can do whatever – she thinks I can fly, you know?!
I ended up praying on it and decided to go ahead and take that leap and see what would happen. And that’s what I did. It was the best decision I ever made because now I own a shoe company at 29 years old. And it was all because of having faith and believing in myself and having my mom and family behind me. I wanted to secure generational wealth and inspire the next generation of women who might want to get into a male-dominated world. And I just hope I can be an inspiration to those women.
What are your favourite TRONUS styles?
My favourite style is the Clouds, which are all-white, and then it’s probably between the blush colour and the aquas because those are the two loudest colours. They just stand out. When you see those colours on someone, it’s just beautiful. I think they’re the most eye-catching. I love anything that’s loud and has look-at-me type vibes [laughs]. But honestly, I just like that they look beautiful on anyone’s foot, and they get attention.
What are your hopes and dreams in sport, business, and life?
I want TRONUS to be the next Nike; I want it to be the biggest shoe company in the world. I also want to make a name for myself in the speaking world because I love speaking to children and women, empowering them and helping them see the best version of themselves. I also want to have a bestseller in my book, which I’m currently creating. And I also want to have a family one day, of course. That’s obviously a big one for me.
But overall, I just want to be successful. I want to be able to inspire and motivate the next generation of women. And I also want to live out my purpose, whatever God put me on this earth to complete. I want to make sure I’m following the path that God set before me.