This Girl Can: Rachael and Rugby

As I sat watching the 2015 Rugby World Cup and really getting into it, a friend said “You’d be good at that.” I just laughed it off.

I had recently been diagnosed with bipolar. My confidence was at an all-time low especially when there can be so much stigma around mental health, and I never thought I would be accepted by a team. The following year while watching the Six Nations, my friend again said “You’d be good at rugby, you’re big and strong.” I told him that, if he came with me, I’d give it a go.

I researched local teams and came across Darlington Ladies Rugby Club at Blackwell Meadows. One week later, I found myself sat in Darlington Rugby Club’s car park. Twenty-five minutes and one panic attack later, I decided to bite the bullet, get out the car and made my way over to the pitch with support from my friend. As we walked along the side of the pitch he said “I’ll meet you here after, you’ll be fine.” I could feel the panic taking over my body, the voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough to be here, I was too fat and I should just go home.

“Changing rooms are this way,” I heard as one of the ladies walked past me. As I followed her, I could hear laughter bellowing out of the changing rooms. At this point my anxiety had really taken hold of me and I could feel my heart beating so fast I thought it was going to explode. I sat in the corner of the changing room thinking I should never have come here, I cannot do this.

The ladies began to introduce themselves to me. I can honestly say I was focusing more on curbing another panic attack than listening to them. The ladies then asked my name and if I had ever played Rugby before. This was the part I was dreading — everyone’s eyes on me waiting for me to speak. I took a deep breath and mumbled my name. The ladies smiled and spoke kind words telling me I was going to be fine and will have fun.

Within five minutes of the warm-up my nerves were on the back foot. I did not have a clue what I was doing, but everyone was willing to teach me. Catching that funny shaped ball felt amazing and smashing those tackle bags lit a fire inside of me. I wasn’t just fat, I was strong and fearless! Running around, practicing Rugby drills and tackling was hard work. I hadn’t exercised this much in such a long time, however each week training became easier as my fitness improved. Not only did my fitness improve but my anxiety was becoming easier to manage.

Looking back now, getting out of the car on that cold and wet Thursday evening was one of the hardest and best things I have ever done for myself.

18 months later and I’m about to start my second season. Playing Rugby has helped me gain confidence, build new friendships, improve my fitness, help me manage my mental health and keep me focused. I am part of a team. Not just a team but a family. Every week I look forward to training no matter the weather (even if I do get mud in dodgy places) as I know it makes me feel fantastic.

I still have my good days and bad days, but know I can always count on my Rugby family to support me on and off the pitch.

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