Army Staff Sergeant Claudine Beckford represents America through military, USA Cricket
It was a warm August morning in 2012 when then-22-year-old Claudine Beckford saw the poster for the first time. The Jamaican-American cricketer was waiting for a bus to go see her team, West Indies, play New Zealand in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
"150 military jobs available right now" it read, and underneath it was a website link and phone number. Without realizing what she was doing, she took out a pen and notebook from her backpack and jotted down the information.
Out of curiosity she called, and then she decided to drop by the Army recruiter's office. The woman at the reception handed her a piece of paper that was a test. She'd come just to get information but instead she took the test and passed it. Next thing she knew, she was headed to boot camp. She went through rigorous training, putting her body through an awful lot, especially for something she hadn't planned to do. "I can't do this," she thought to herself midway through. Her advisor told her to stick it out and see where her head was at by the end of training.
Today, Army Staff Sergeant Beckford is a supplies officer in Germany, taking care of everything from simple logistics to coordinating random drug testing. But just as she stumbled into the military, she also stumbled into American cricket when she first moved from Jamaica in 2006.
She'd played cricket growing up in Kingston and had accepted the fact that the move would end the cricket chapter in her life. But just a few months after she moved, she played her first national tournament for the United States and in 2011 made her international debut.
"I didn't, like, get up one day and say, 'I want to join the military,' just like how I didn't get up one day and say, 'I want to play cricket for America,'" Beckford said. "Now, it's the two things that root me to America."
On Saturday, she will accompany the U.S. team to Scotland for the global ICC Women's World T20 qualifiers, the last tournament that determines whether the U.S. can play in the world cup next year.
Growing up, Beckford would follow her brothers everywhere in Jamaica, trying to convince them to let her play cricket whenever they needed an extra hand.
"She is a tiny person, but her energy -- she's a giant, man," her brother Mark Oliver said.
She grew up around boys and could outtalk them about any sport and any statistic, even in her sleep.
Every time Beckford thinks of playing cricket in Jamaica, one memory stands out. She was 12 years old and in junior high school. Her team was in the final of a local inter-school tournament and she was the only girl on the team. She distinctly remembers all the parents getting out of their cars to watch what was going on. It was a regular school day, so she hadn't even remembered to tell her family to come and watch.
A small group had gathered. As soon as the next ball was bowled, she got into position. The ball struck the dead center of the bat -- the sound of the willow was something she still remembered -- and the ball sailed all the way out of the park.
"Watching people watch me, it gave me a lot of excitement," Beckford said.
At just 20, she made it to the Jamaican national camp that was supposed to tour Guyana for a tournament. It was also the same time her mother, Claudia Fuller, was preparing Beckford's paperwork for her to join her in the United States. Fuller wanted her daughter to have a better life in America. And with a little bit of resentment, she chose getting her passport work done over going to national camp.
A few months after she moved to Fort Lauderdale, her Jamaican high school coach reached out asking if she still wanted to play cricket. "Cricket in America?" she remembers mumbling into the phone. She'd even looked at local soccer clubs she could be a part of. "Why not?" she thought, and the next thing she knew, somebody called her and told her she could come in for a trial run. She made the U.S. national team and in the same year -- 2006 -- played her first national tournament.
"Playing cricket is like living through a life story, where in one moment things are going great for you and the next moment worst things are happening and you end up losing the game," Beckford said. "It's a life story told from the first to the last ball. It's mostly mental, and you've got to think logically when it comes to cricket and you got to be one step ahead all the time in order for you to be successful and be a winner."
Her approach to cricket is strikingly similar to her approach to her job in the military. She's worked in the U.S., South Korea and now in Germany. With the constant shifts come a discipline and mental grit that keep her going.
Her days are long -- she wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and is at the military workout at 6:30 a.m. After a two-hour workout, she showers and gets ready for her 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. On Mondays, she takes a college class from 6 to 9 p.m. In between all of this, she keeps in touch with her American teammates, following their nutritional schedule for the week, checking in with coaches and sometimes even getting in a nets session.
Because it's the military, she has to deal with layers of clearance every time she has to play a cricket tournament. It includes advanced scheduling, swapping shifts with colleagues who know exactly what her job entails (which very few did), and finding alternative ways to train and stay fit when a scheduling conflict arises.
And through it all, Beckford has somehow grown into a leader for the U.S. team. Her energy, presence and intuitive thinking have helped the team win regional qualifiers and advance to world qualifiers.
Beckford is the kind of player who sends inspirational quotes to the U.S. team's WhatsApp group for everybody to read when they wake up. "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." And "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." She's also the player who sends videos and photos of the lunch and dinner she made. The team has a nutrition regimen for every week. Sometimes it's "use lentils in your food once a day" and sometimes it is "use spinach in every meal for the week."
"The first time she talked during the team's first camp earlier in the year, she talked about what it meant for her to play for Team USA. She just has the most profound and emotional words, it moves and energizes the team," U.S. women's head coach Julia Price said.
Over the past few months, Beckford has grown into a leader on the field, helping captain and wicketkeeper Sindhu Sriharsha make interesting and risky fielding decisions that have paid off for the team.
"She thinks a lot about the field placements and talks a lot to the girls about understanding the game and how what they do affects the bigger picture. It's really exciting to watch her mind work," Price said.
She is not alone in her work ethic. The entire team has been working hard on its conditioning. The players have a system of uploading their conditioning and strength workouts every day. And based on how they're doing, they're given instructions by coaches to either take it up a notch or ease up. As an associate nation, having that uniformity in training despite being a decentralized team is a big system, something that is not being followed in many other associate nations, Price said.
"And if we're proficient in that, we can just focus on improving their skills constantly," Price said.
The hard work has paid off. The team won the ICC Women's Qualifiers Americas in May after a 3-0 whitewash against Canada, automatically qualifying for the global qualifiers in Scotland.
The team will take on Scotland, Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea in Group A, and the top two teams will qualify for the semifinals against the top two teams in Group B (Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands and Thailand). Making the cut for the World Cup would be a major first for America in cricket, bringing in fresh fans -- especially girls, Price said.
The team is already thinking of the big picture: to introduce the sport to girls across the country with women's-only competition so they can see they don't have to play with boys to play the sport.
"That's also going to motivate those at the top with the pressure that younger players are coming through the system and that's a pretty positive direction to go in," Price said.
For Beckford, it's about building the team from scratch and bringing your country to the main stage in a sport that's never been there before.
"It's not about I am playing for a country with less resources or more resources. Playing cricket was something I always wanted to do. It was never about where I felt more visible or whatever," she said. "It's a proud moment where you can take something from nothing and build it up."