January 29, 2020
Two years ago, I suffered a traumatic experience that left me feeling weak and vulnerable. Before I’d always been really confident, but after what happened, I blamed myself. I began to think that I must be a really weak person. My self-confidence completely deteriorated and I was feeling what’s probably best described as fragile.
Rugby Showed Me I Had The Strength To Tackle My Mental Health
I decided I needed an outlet, something to turn to that would help me pick myself up and rebuild my confidence. That’s when a colleague suggested that I come along with them for a rugby training session.
I’d never come close to even thinking about playing rugby – I’d never even watched a rugby match on TV or otherwise – and I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. If I’m honest, rugby came across as a bit of a brutish sport and I thought you’d have to be quite tough to play it, which really isn’t me. I thought I’d get absolutely annihilated if I tried to play! But my colleague persevered in trying to convince me that there was so much more to it than just being tackled, and I agreed to give it a go.
When I showed up to my first session at Streatham Croydon RFC, I was petrified. But from the very beginning, it was such a supportive atmosphere that eased me in gently through fitness and drills, and learning things like how to throw a rugby ball properly and some of the rules of the game. I enjoyed it so much that I played in a development game that weekend, alongside other women who at a similar level to me.From day one, I felt empowered: I realised I wasn’t fragile, and I realised I could hit someone just as hard as they could hit meAfter the first couple of tackles, I found out that, actually, I’m not made of glass and that it turns out most of the fear about getting tackled is in your head. It really doesn’t hurt, and – while there can be injuries in rugby just as much as there can be in any sport – if you tackle properly then you don’t get hurt; you’ll just go down onto very soft, muddy ground most of the time.
From day one, I felt empowered: I realised I wasn’t fragile, and I realised I could hit someone just as hard as they could hit me. I could do all the things that they could do. I started to have a bit more faith in myself, to start to trust myself again and to trust my instincts, which I hadn’t been able to do for months. This started to manifest itself in everyday life too, and I began to have confidence in myself to strive for more. I set myself goals, both personally and professionally, and I pushed to gain new qualifications at work because I knew that I could do it. Today, my standards are higher than ever before.
We know exercise boosts our mental health, makes us feel stronger, makes our bodies feel better and brings clarity to our thoughts, but when I was on the field, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. It opened doors for me I never knew were there to be opened, and now I play football, I climb; all things that I would never have tried before playing rugby. I’ve got so much more energy now and I feel that I have an unlimited amount of happiness. That’s something that I never thought would be possible after everything that happened to me.
Rugby is a great game for embracing different types of people, of all shapes and sizes – you’re not expected to be this super athletic person, because that’s not what’s needed for every position. That meant everyone on the team is different, nobody is ever judged, and everyone truly loved you for who you are.That also means the social side of rugby, too, is brilliant and kept me wanting to go back time and time again. Some of my teammates have become some of my best friends. In previous friendships, I’ve sometimes found women haven’t been so supportive of other women and sometimes put one another down, but my whole rugby team are so focused on supporting and empowering one another. We all do a variety of jobs and come from very different backgrounds which is fascinating in itself, but we have this shared mentality that you can do anything, regardless of being a woman, of your background, of your sexuality. 
After my traumatic experience, I felt so many emotions. I felt ashamed but didn’t understand why I felt that way; I felt that I was to blame, that I didn’t really know who I was any more, or whether it was even right to feel this way at all. It’s a very complicated thing to go through and I think that I just rolled with it, rather than ever actually dealing with it. Getting into rugby helped me to kickstart that process; I found it easier to speak to some of my new teammates about what had happened to me, which helped to bring a bit more clarity to everything.
As soon as I walked into the club, I felt such complete acceptance from everyone. There are no judgemental feelings, people are just happy to see you and interested in what you’re saying. When I told some of the girls what had happened to me, there was never really any pity, it was more matter of fact than that. They helped me to realise that I didn’t deserve what had happened, and that I had the strength to take my life back and do whatever I wanted to do.I don’t feel the need to be anything other than me now, and I think that’s probably the ultimate thing to achieve in lifeLooking back, I can’t imagine not playing rugby now. I’m in my second season, and I’m captain of the development team and looking to build a second development team next season. For others who might find themselves in the same boat, I’d definitely encourage them to be brave and to have a go. It’s not what it looks like – there’s so much more to the game than being tackled to the ground, and I’ve played for two seasons now and never sustained an injury.
While I don’t know if you ever fully recover from trauma, it’s thanks to rugby that I was able to pick myself back up and get back on my feet. Sport is a great way to take your life back. It gives you a new lease of life, and you start to feel stronger and better both physically and mentally, and it happens quicker than you might expect.
I don’t feel the need to be anything other than me now, and I think that’s probably the ultimate thing to achieve in life: not to have to strive to impress other people and to just be happy with yourself. I think that if you can try playing rugby, you can pretty much try anything.
England Rugby has created the Inner Warrior campaign to encourage women nationwide to have a go at playing rugby, with free Warrior Camps running up until 9 February. For more information or to find a session near you, visit englandrugby.com/innerwarrior
Head In The Game sees athletes across a variety of disciplines speak candidly about their mental wellbeing – from occasional periods of poor mental health to ongoing, sometimes debilitating, struggles with mental illness. They also share coping mechanisms and the support they’ve turned to during their lowest points.More from Head In The Game... How Footballer Eniola Aluko Pushed Past Her ‘Paralysing Fear Of Failure’ Frank Bruno Helped Change How Mental Health Is Spoken About In Sport. Where's The Conversation Now?
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