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Santia Deck: The World's Highest Paid Female Footballer

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Santia Deck: The World's Highest Paid Female Footballer

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This week we sat down with Santia Deck, to discuss her amazing career and how she’s changing the world of sport for female athletes. Often referred to as the ‘Queen of Abs’ or ‘the highest paid female football player in the world’, Santia has built a global brand, runs her own footwear company, has launched her own fitness app and is changing history through her sporting achievements. The star of American football kindly took time out of her busy schedule to catch up with our editor-in-chief, Luisa Kearney, to talk all things sport, careers, equality and puppies!

(Originally published on 8.3.2020) 

Santia Deck: The World's Highest Paid Female Footballer

I had the privilege of chatting with American footballer and all-round girl boss, Santia Deck, this week in a fun, casual conversation over Zoom. At just 29 years old, Santia has already achieved so much. As she talked me through her life and career into professional sports, I was fascinated by her aspirational story and how much she’s managed to fit in so far. The Queen of Abs, as people like to call her, is not only excelling on her own journey, she’s also passionate about giving back and helping others. The conversation then turned to talking about her new puppy, Bear, an 8-week old Pomeranian and how much she adores him! They say that success in sports is a lot to do with personality and if Santia Deck is anything to go on then I completely agree with this statement. Ambitious, talented, humble and compassionate, it’s impossible not to like Santia!

 

Luisa: Hi Santia, it’s great to speak to you. How are you? How are you coping through lockdown?

Santia: Everything is pretty much open now. Where I am, we have a pretty big event going on in the city right now. For me it’s been pretty busy because I’ve been part of a lot of events and stuff. So yeah, it’s been pretty crazy.

Santia Deck: The World's Highest Paid Female Footballer

L: That’s good! In Europe most of us are in lockdown right now so we’re just waiting for things to get back to normal. Thank you for agreeing to this interview with us! I think your story is really inspiring and it’s incredible what you’ve achieved in the world of sports. For the purpose of this interview, could you tell us more about yourself and your journey into football?

S: Yeah, sure. I started my first sport, tennis, when I was four years old. I started track and foot at seven (years old) and that kind of became my life. I ran track from about 7 years old to 23 and now I’m 29, so that was a big chunk of my life. After college I was hoping to make the Olympic team in track, like the 100m or 200m, but I got injured so that kind of ended my journey. I told myself that if I got injured one more time I would just hang up my fleece. Throughout college and high school and even middle school, I was injured a lot unfortunately, so I was just tired of going back-and-forth, getting so far and then having to shut everything down because of injury. So I was like, if I get injured one more time then I’m done. I feel like that’s God telling me that it’s not for you anymore so go ahead and try something different. I was just trying to find something to fill that hole of no longer being a track runner.

One day I was driving and I randomly saw a sign that said: ‘Try out for off football tryouts at 3pm’. I thought to myself, this sounds pretty cool, so I went along and I did really well and my coach asked me “How long have you been doing this?” and I said “I’ve never played football.” but I grew up with three brothers, one is my twin, and they all played football and they were all football running backs. So I was outside a lot as a kid playing football, running around happily with my brothers and not even realising that one day this might be my entire life. I played flag football for a while. I still play here and there but that was honestly what made my social media following go crazy because I went viral a few times playing flag football and doing all different things for football.

Shortly after that, I played maybe for about three years, I got scouted through Facebook. I guess the coach was watching my Facebook and I didn’t even know. He was a rugby coach. He reached out to me and asked “Hey, have you ever thought about playing rugby?” I was like “I didn’t even know women played rugby.” I didn’t even know much about the sport. But he was like “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll teach you how to play.” You’re fast and you’re agile, so I agreed and he invited me the USA Olympic centre to do a tryout.

Unfortunately the guy who invited me got fired just before I got there! So when I turned up, people were asking me “What are you doing here? Do you even know how to play?” And then the new coach came in and said “If you learn how to play then maybe you could come back.” So that was how it was with rugby and so I continued to play flag football a little bit more, a little bit of tackle football with LFL, but it wasn’t really my thing because I didn’t have proper coaching. And then rugby came back a second time and I really learned how to play and I made the travelling teams. The next thing I know, I was on an Olympic journey because the coach was like “Hey! You have it! You just need to learn how to play.”

So I was trying to learn how to play rugby within a six month span and trying to cram in all of this knowledge about the game. I was flying from New Zealand to London, to all these different places just to learn. Unfortunately that took a toll on my body and I ended up getting injured and that ended my rugby journey as far as the Olympics went.

Shortly after that, I had healed from my injury and I was going through depression at the time because I was feeling lost. I had been training through literally all of 2019 for the Olympics, as an Olympic hopeful for rugby and then the injury happened and I was thinking “Ok, what am I supposed to be doing?” I was very confused at this point. I had put all my money and energy into this journey and it stopped abruptly because of something I couldn’t control. So I went through a period of depression and I remember my mom one day saying “OK you have to figure out what you’re going to do. Are you going to give it to God? Or are you going to beat yourself up over something you can’t control?” She just told me to pray about it and I remember getting on my knees that night and just giving it to God and letting him have the reins over my life. I said “God, whatever you have in store for me, I know it’s the best. And I’m just going to let you do your thing.” And literally two months later, I got a call from Lupe Rose, who runs the WFLA. She made an offer I couldn’t refuse and then I became the highest paid female footballer in history!

Santia Deck: The World's Highest Paid Female Footballer

L: Wow, that’s amazing! What a journey!

S: Yeah it’s been a journey.

L: People often talk about the inequality between male and female athletes. Have you ever felt that inequality?

S: Oh yeah. I think it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re always going to notice the pay gap difference, the exposure, airtime - it’s all completely different. I noticed that even when I was in elementary school and middle school. I remember my twin brother having MLB players come, NFL players and MBA players come and talk to him and his class about how to get to this point in their journey and what you needed to do to get there. You know, all of this amazing stuff that would motivate you more because you see it as possible, seeing somebody that you want to be like.

Santia Deck

 

But I don’t remember one female athlete coming in and talking to me and my teammates about anything. So as a female athlete, you kind of just have to figure out on your own. You don’t have anyone coming in telling you: this is my journey, this is what you shouldn’t do, this is what you should avoid so that you don’t fall into this pithole - or whatever. I noticed that at a young age and now being a professional athlete, of course it’s better, because we are the first league where women are actually being paid and getting paid a lot of money. But it’s pennies compared to NFL players and we are taking the same amount of hits, putting in the same amount of time and energy and everything else. It’s crazy but it is getting better. It is cool to see women now getting these high positions like coaching the NFL, coaching in the NBA, refereeing now, there’s so many crazy, good things happening in the world of sports for women. Is there a difference still? Very much so, very much so!

 

 

I feel like that’s God telling me: that’s not for you anymore so go ahead and try something different. I was just trying to find something to fill that hole of no longer being a track runner.

Shortly after that, I had healed from my injury and I was going through depression at the time because I was feeling lost. I had been training through literally all of 2019 for the Olympics, as an Olympic hopeful for rugby and then the injury happened and I was thinking “Ok, what am I supposed to be doing?” I was very confused at this point. I had put all my money and energy into this journey and it stopped abruptly because of something I couldn’t control. So I went through a period of depression and I remember my mom one day saying “OK you have to figure out what you’re going to do. Are you going to give it to God? Or are you going to beat yourself up over something you can’t control?” She just told me to pray about it and I remember getting on my knees that night and just giving it to God and letting him have the reins over my life. I said “God, whatever you have in store for me, I know it’s the best. And I’m just going to let you do your thing.” And literally two months later, I got a call from Lupe Rose, who runs the WFLA. She made an offer I couldn’t refuse and then I became the highest paid female footballer in history!

L: Wow, that’s amazing! What a journey!

S: Yeah it’s been a journey.

 

I got a call from Lupe Rose, who runs the WFLA. She made an offer I couldn’t refuse and then I became the highest paid female footballer in history!

L: People often talk about the inequality between male and female athletes. Have you ever felt that inequality?

S: Oh yeah. I think it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re always going to notice the pay gap difference, the exposure, airtime - it’s all completely different. I noticed that even when I was in elementary school and middle school. I remember my twin brother having MLB players come, NFL players and MBA players come and talk to him and his class about how to get to this point in their journey and what you needed to do to get there. You know, all of this amazing stuff that would motivate you more because you see it as possible, seeing somebody that you want to be like.

But I don’t remember one female athlete coming in and talking to me and my teammates about anything. So as a female athlete, you kind of just have to figure out on your own. You don’t have anyone coming in telling you: this is my journey, this is what you shouldn’t do, this is what you should avoid so that you don’t fall into this pithole - or whatever. I noticed that at a young age and now being a professional athlete, of course it’s better, because we are the first league where women are actually being paid and getting paid a lot of money. But it’s pennies compared to NFL players and we are taking the same amount of hits, putting in the same amount of time and energy and everything else.

It’s crazy but it is getting better. It is cool to see women now getting these high positions like coaching the NFL, coaching in the NBA, refereeing now, there’s so many crazy, good things happening in the world of sports for women. Is there a difference still? Very much so, very much so!

Santia Deck

L: Now, being in your position, do you feel that you could help with that? To help advise and educate aspiring sportswomen by sharing your experiences?

S: Yeah, most definitely. I actually speak with a lot of kids and young girls now but I definitely want to continue to do that on a much larger scale. And one day, maybe when I’m completely done with my sports career, and everything else, I do want to coach women and probably have a track team or maybe a football team. I’ve always felt that it’s very important to always give back to the younger generation and honestly, everything I do is for the next generation.

I don’t have kids yet and so I hope that I’m able to leave a legacy and help pioneer this whole thing so that when kids get to my age, they are able to say that they had the opportunity to play professional football and get paid the same amount as their brothers, without it being weird or unusual. I hope that what we’re doing with this league is going to change these girls’ lives forever.

Santia Deck: The World's Highest Paid Female Footballer

L: That’s great! You’re changing history and are an influential role model to so many people. What I’d like to know is how you manage it all? Obviously you have your football career, you have your brand, you’ve recently launched your own footwear company and your fitness app. How do you manage it all and what is an average day like for you?

S: Oh man! It kind of varies. I do have a team, which I recommend to anyone who is trying to do a lot of things at one time. I have my assistants, I have a manager, I have my PR team and all these different people helping to move the train along. But my day varies. It consists of a lot of interviews, a lot of working out. Normally, I would know when our games are starting but because of Covid, everything is still pretty much up in the air. Normally, I would be training twice a day, morning and afternoon. I travel a lot for business and training as well. I have trainers all over. When the world is normal, I would be going to events, pushing my brand out there, speaking, so it just depends on what is on my schedule. I don’t have a very structured schedule to be honest.

L: You have a huge following and a very active social media presence. How did you start your own brand?

S: It all happened through social media. I was in college and I was one of those kids still stuck on Facebook, so I got on to Instagram pretty late. I remember my friend, she was like “I bet I can get more followers than you” and that was literally what started my whole social media journey because of course, I’m competitive. I just started posting my track and field workouts at college and people really liked them. They started sharing them, liking them and commenting. The next thing I know, my videos are being posted on these really big fitness pages and all types of crazy stuff. I remember what really started it and what really made me turn it into my business was when I came across this girl who was posting lipsticks and things. I reached out to her and asked her if she was being paid to do this. She said “Yeah I make $100 a post.” When you’re in college that’s a lot of money. She said “Yeah, all you need to do is get to 10,000 followers.” I said “OK I’m currently at 7000, so could you perhaps share my stuff...?” and she said yes! After that I started doing all this cross-promotion. They’re posting me and I’m posting them. That’s when my following grew like crazy. When I hit 10,000 followers I remember messaging this t-shirt company in Hawaii, saying “Hey, I have 10,000 followers, could I get a shirt?” They agreed and that’s when I realised how powerful this was. I can get free stuff and I can get paid, I’m going to turn this into a business! My mom noticed my following growing and she said “OK, let’s brand this. What would you want to be called?” And I said “I don’t know. Maybe ‘The Princess of Abs’,” because everybody would talk about my stomach and how ripped it was blah blah. She said “Why be a princess when you can be a queen?” The next thing you know, Queen of Abs was born and that’s my LOC.

Santia Deck

L: That’s really interesting. I was actually wondering how you got that name and where it came from! You’ve also launched your own footwear brand. Tell us about how you created TRONAS.

S: It’s an interesting story because I’ve always loved sneakers since I was a kid. My dream as a kid was to have my own shoe, like Michael Jordan, of course. But I never thought about having a shoe company. It wasn’t as if that was my life goal, getting my own shoe, but it was something I liked and something that I wanted. I think every kid wants to have their own shirt or shoe or whatever.

It actually started because I was a brand ambassador for a shoe company and I was selling their shoes like crazy on my platform. One day the graphic designer came to me and asked: “Have you ever thought about doing a signature line with us?” I said “No but I’m down for a signature line. Of course I’d want to have a signature line and have my own shoe to sell! He said “Ok, cool.” We discussed how we wanted it to look and how to make it unique and this and that. He made up some different sketches for me and we got the finished design together in just one attempt. It was so fast! I don’t think that ever happens! I then posted it on my social media and it went crazy and everybody wanted to buy it right away. That got me thinking, I thought “This is a great idea. It’s not even real yet and everybody wants to buy it.”

We then decided on creating a signature line rather than just a signature shoe, that way we could have different colours. We discussed it, we talked about colours, I posted it again and it went even crazier. Then my mom, who is my manager, noticed it and said “We could do a shoe company!” I wasn’t sure about the idea. I told her that we were going to have to go up against Nike, and all these big companies and I didn’t think it was that easy. And she said “You already have a huge following, a really engaged following, they’re very supportive of what you do.”

I still had my doubts but I prayed on it and I thought, what’s the worst that can happen? Yes if it fails, it’s going to suck but I can say that I try to create a shoe company. But if it does succeed, I’m solidifying generational wealth for my kids and it will set a legacy for generations after me.

In the end, I thought I’m going to do it, I’m going to jump and luckily the graphic designer had worked with all the big companies, so he knew how to get it out there and work on all of the legal stuff and the behind the scenes business stuff. It was a two-year process. It was very up and down. At one point I thought you know this is too much, I just don’t want to do this anymore. But my mom, she is my rock, she said “Santia, this is going to be big, it’s going to be really big.” So I said “Ok, Ok!” We launched in June and honestly, it has been… I can’t even put it into words. I knew it was going to big but I didn’t know it was going to be this big and it’s just been insane. That’s all I can say! I guess everything is meant to happen in the way it supposed to.

Santia Deck

L: You recently got a new puppy. He’s absolutely adorable! Is Bear your only pet or do you have others?

S: Thank you! No, he is my only pet and is probably going to be the last dog I get because he’s only nine weeks old and it’s like having a baby! I love him to pieces but he’s going to be an only child for sure!

L: I know the feeling! I have a dog too and it’s a big responsibility! Do you travel with him when you’re working?

S: No, I have three pet carriers and so when I go anywhere, like the store or just out and about, I do take him with me. When life gets back to normal, when I go on an airplane, I will definitely take him with me. At the moment there’s a lot going on over here and when I go anywhere I have to take him to a pet sitter and I don’t like leaving him because obviously he’s really attached. The reason I got a small dog - he’s a Pomeranian, is because he’s small and I can take him places with me. He’s just perfect to be honest.

L: How lovely! Dogs really are the best companions! Bear is so small and cute, I completely get why you don’t want to leave him! Lastly, do you have any tips for anyone who wants to achieve their goals or follow in your footsteps?

S: I would just say: “If you want it just go and get it.” That’s my motto and that pretty much means that whatever it takes to get that goal or that dream, no matter how many times you have to fall or fail, break, if that’s your dream that’s your baby and you should protect it. Do whatever it takes to get there. No matter what people say, because people are always going to tell you what you can’t do, especially as a woman. My piece of advice is to just remind yourself that anything is possible. We are breaking through glass ceilings right now, as women, as a whole, in every area possible. If you want something and if you want to do something major right now, this is the time. There is so much happening for us, so just go out there for throttle and do whatever it is that you want to do.

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