LANDSTUHL, Germany - Growing up in a small town, MaryCatherine Innace’s sports experience was limited to what her high school had to offer. Still, she enjoyed being active and was eager to try new activities when the opportunity arose, including weightlifting, powerlifting, and track and field throughout high school.
While in college, a random social media message allowed Innace to tackle a new sport she still adores.
“I went from a really small high school to a huge university so I had absolutely no idea what rugby was,” said the Eatontown, New Jersey native. “I showed up to a practice and immediately just felt at home. (The team) was really accepting, kept me involved and four years later, I was looking for my next team.”
Following graduation, the Rutgers University alumna searched for new ventures and enlisted in the Army. Now a nutrition care specialist with the rank of sergeant assigned to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Innace is making new headlines with the sport she so adored in college.
“By my second weekend (in Germany), I was playing with (a local rugby team) in a tournament and eventually coached the team,” recalls Innace. “Now I get to play at a new level.”
In June, Innace was selected as a team member for the All-Army Women’s Rugby Team. The team was tested against teams from the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force (with Space Force personnel) and Coast Guard during the second-ever Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship, and went undefeated, winning top honors at the championship.
Although Innace’s contributions on the field are obvious, her goals go beyond the goal line with hopes to directly impact Soldiers across the Army.
“Fitness has pretty much always been in my life. I've played sports since I was little,” said Innace. “Learning what I could do with my body, in terms of strength training, just made me realize the term ‘athlete’ means so much more than just somebody who plays for the NBA, the WNBA, professional football, etc. It can be anyone who's training for something.”
Armed with her bachelor’s degree in exercise science and her lifelong experience in fitness, Innace has her eyes set on earning a master’s degree in public health through the Army’s Green to Gold Scholarship. Following school, she will commission as an Army officer and hopes to help Soldiers reach their full potential through the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness System, a program which aims to empower and equip Soldiers to take charge of their health, fitness, and well-being in order to optimize individual performance, while preventing injury and disease.
“I want to work with Soldier-athletes. I want to help design programs to help Soldiers think of themselves as athletes, regardless if they participate in sports or not,” explains Innace. “(Service Members) are in the military, (they) are athletes. (I want to teach them) how to live as one.”
Additionally, Innace believes an athlete’s mindset is just as critical to their performance, a notion tested last year when COVID-19 shut down most sporting events and training activities across the world.
“I've been able to keep myself busy, keep myself active, keep working out, being in the military has helped out with that. You are constantly training,” said Innace. “I always want to have a goal and be in that mindset, it’s helped me a lot. That's what mission readiness is about, regardless if you know you have a mission coming up or not. (Soldiers) are always preparing for what could happen. If you take that mindset to a team sport atmosphere, you're combining training with other people and you're having fun doing it.”