Rugby: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Scars

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I wanted to talk about rugby, and how getting into a sport really kickstarted my relationship with fitness.

I kind of fell into rugby by accident. As a child I did no sport, but my sister and I did ballet most nights which kept us busy. I gave up dancing when I was about 16/17, and until I started rugby in my final year of university I wasn’t doing any exercise. I didn’t enjoy sport and I didn’t have the motivation to exercise properly. It is safe to say that paired with my awful eating habits, I was very unfit.

I started working at Vodafone and one of the girls I worked with quickly became one of my closest friends. She played on the university rugby team and would persistently ask me to come down to a training session. At the time I wasn’t up for it, it didn’t really seem like ‘my thing’. Fast forward a bit, I’d studied abroad in Japan for a few months, and I came back a very different person. I returned to Winchester, started working at Vodafone again, and went with my friend to a training session. I wanted to experience a different side to university and step out of my comfort zone.

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I instantly loved it. I never pinned myself as a sporty person, but I took to the contact element surprisingly well. I was learning a new sport, and spending a lot of time with a new group of friends who were all wonderfully crazy. It sounds awfully cliché, but it felt like I was a part of something. Everyone who joins a sports team will tell you that their team mates are the family they never knew they had. It was so nice to have a huge group of friends, and training on an evening would make university lectures with a hangover bearable! At least we could debrief on the previous night’s antics.

As I learned more about rugby, I was getting better and recognised the need to be fitter. We usually turned up to games with just enough players, so we all had to play the full 80 minutes. When you’ve spent the last 4 years lazing around and eating the diet of an unchaperoned child, after 10 minutes of contact sport I was obviously blowing out of my arse. There are moments when you think, this might be it. This might be how I leave this world, panting like a dog on a summer day because I’ve been running non-stop and some girl twice my size just sat on me. I’m not really painting a good picture am I?

In all seriousness, when a workout at the gym gets too much you just stop. When you’re playing rugby, you can’t (and won’t) stop. The desire to win takes over your body, and you’re certainly not going to let your friends down. For those 80 minutes you’re at war, and no one lets their friend go in alone. It doesn’t matter that you’re tired, you won’t let the opposition take down your girls. And you’re certainly not going to let your team have all the fun without you. Rugby players are the absolute worst for coming off the pitch. My first captain cried on the last game of the season because she broke her finger. But she wasn’t crying because of the finger, she was crying because the referee wouldn’t let her carry on playing. It meant that much to us!

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That first year of rugby was one of the best years of my life. I found something I was good at, I graduated university with a first class degree, and I made some amazing memories with wonderful people.

Knee Injury

So I’d just graduated and I was starting the research for my MPhil/PhD. I was exercising outside of rugby and was actually looking pretty good. There weren’t really any postgraduate students involved in societies; although I did feel a little insecure for hanging around undergraduates, I continued playing rugby with the university team because it kept me sane and they were my family. It was only the second game of the season when I was injured in November 2015. A metal pole that was stuck in the ground went through my knee as I slid over the try line (I wasn’t even scoring which is all the more tragic). This resulted in a bad infection, two surgeries, a leg brace, and a massive scar.

I was bed bound for a while and it really affected me. I was miserable because my life pretty much stopped, I couldn’t even tie my own shoelaces without help. I was desperate to get my independence back. I was supposed to be going on a cruise around the Caribbean with my mum the exact day I was discharged from hospital, which made the whole thing even more depressing. I told my mum to go anyway with her friend, and my dad came and looked after me for which I am eternally grateful. He drove me all over the place, even taking me to Winchester so I could attend the induction day for my MPhil (I rocked up in my leg brace, everyone was very accommodating). Being bed bound results in weight gain, and I’d lost all desire to care about my body when I was in pain 24/7.

Once the brace came off I still had a long way to go with recovery. It was a deep wound and so I had to be patient. I would still come watch training sessions because I still wanted to be a part of rugby, I was reluctant to let the injury make me even more upset. It wasn’t until the following April that I finally played another game; I was nervous and probably a little useless, but I was so happy to be back and feeling more confident. That first game was all the way in Plymouth… I was that desperate to be involved again. It took a while for me to feel fully comfortable falling on my knee, but it eventually hurt less and I stopped worrying about it. Even now the scar tissue can feel strange in my body, especially in the cold! It doesn’t look much better two years on, but I’ve accepted my war wound.

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Some people have asked if the injury put me off rugby. No, and the simplest way to explain it is that it wasn’t a rugby related injury. The pole should have never been there, and if it hadn’t I would have just slid across the ground and got back up again. It was a freak occurrence, and I don’t see why I should stop enjoying the sport I love. The likelihood of this happening again is slim to none, I don’t see the injury having much to do with the sport itself.

Vice-Captain

Even after being injured for most of the year, somehow I was elected as Vice-Captain for the following year. I’d weighed up whether I wanted to carry on with the university team, but I was still very much involved and I was keen to make a positive impact. It was a great year with unexpected turns; we recruited far more girls than we had ever done before, we got new kit, new coaches, and everyone was feeling positive after having a rough year before. It was difficult at times, but it was incredibly rewarding. After not winning a single game the year before, we finally won a league game on the 1s pitch under floodlights. To other teams this may seem like nothing but to us it meant the world, we cried with happiness! There were a couple of other games which were very close, and after spending most of our time getting spanked by other teams it was amazing. We were on the road to better things, and our standard of rugby had been raised.

Basingstoke

As my year as Vice came to a close, I realised this was my final year with the university side. Although I’m still a student now, I’m getting older and each year the team gets younger. It was time to finally move on. One of my old coaches is based in Basingstoke and he encouraged me to attend an ‘Inner Warrior’ recruitment event for their ladies team. I turned up on my own not really sure what to expect, and I felt right at home. Everyone was very friendly, and the session was structured well by the coaches. Although Winchester does have a club team, they are still in the early stages of forming and I wanted to be able to go somewhere and learn. I was happy to make the commute to Basingstoke for such a lovely atmosphere.

Historically, Basingstoke did have a ladies team but for some reason it stopped a few years ago. About a year ago they decided to start the team up again, and after a good year of recruitment and winning merit games they have been entered into a league. I feel like I’ve joined at a perfect time because I’m able to be a part of the team’s journey to greatness. Our first league game is next weekend which we are all very excited for. Our preseason training has been amazing; I’ve learnt more in a few months than I ever did when I was at university. I could sit here and gush about how much I adore everyone but they already know that. I’ve felt welcome from day one and I’m so grateful to have this team in my life.

I’ve also changed positions! When I was at university I was always a flanker. On the first day of training we were going through the basics of tackling. While everyone else was being polite and nice to their partner, my partner and I were practically beating the shit out of each other. There and then I was put as a flanker. I was also a bit heavier so I was useful in the scrum back then. When I joined Basingstoke two stone lighter, my coach wanted me in the backs. I was horribly resistant at first, mainly because I wanted to play where I was comfortable and I’d spent two/three years never passing the ball… How on earth was I going to learn how to pass properly? And run?

I trained with the backs all summer while looking longingly at other players do line-out practice. We had a friendly a few weeks back and were lacking in forwards, and so a last minute decision put me back in the scrum. Hooray! Or so I thought. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know where to position myself, I had little communication with other players, it was a mess. The biggest wake up call was the scrums. Clearly I have never scrummed properly at university, because the only way I’d ever played was attaching myself to the scrum as lightly as possible so I could whizz off the minute the ball was out. The team we played in the friendly were big and strong, and I was having to actually push… I sucked! After that game I went straight up to my coach and admitted defeat, asking please never play me as a flanker again.

Fast forward to two weeks ago and I had my first game playing as fly half. I was bricking it, but as a team we’d gelled better and had a much better plan. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow, but it was a fantastic game and I’m so proud of everyone. We came away with a win and I think we’ve now got the confidence to smash our upcoming league games. Rugby Nats, a social media platform for grass roots rugby, came down to film the game for us. You can watch the clip down here if you are interested:

Rugby has become such a big part of my life and I’m so thankful. I’ve made new friends, developed new skills, and I don’t think I would have found fitness if it wasn’t for rugby. I never had that desire to be healthy or in shape before, but then I struggled to play the game when I didn’t have the pace and endurance. I realised being healthy would help me, and it’s had a big knock-on effect in other areas of my life. I would urge anyone who is considering giving rugby a go to just turn up to a training session near you and give it a go. You’ll be surprised, I certainly was! Even if rugby isn’t your thing, try a different sport. It’s such a great way to get in shape and you’ll meet lots of new people.

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I’ve got a friendly match tomorrow, please cross all your fingers and toes for us!

Charlee x

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