I have always said I wouldn’t write about people I know. However this is mainly because people I know don’t really do much. This weekend however someone I know achieves a massive Landmark in their life and I think it deserves at the minimum a nod of respect.
This weekend against Wales my housemate Rochelle (Rocky) Clark will get her 90th cap for the England Women’s rugby team. In the years I have known her, I have come to not only call her a good friend but also have a level of respect bordering on awe at what she does week in week out to play at the top level.
Despite the many myths about playing for England; if you are a woman, you are making massive sacrifices to play for your country. Many of the women wearing the white shirt at the weekend are putting off a career and sacrificing earning potential to play. They make the same sacrifices as the professional men in terms of commitment to the standards expected of an international athlete as well as holding down jobs and fitting in training and fitness to maintain them. Also there are the personal sacrifices of being away from home, missing the family gatherings, weddings and all the other weekend joys we take for granted.
I take into account that I have a personal bias towards my friend but I also like to think I can be objective and objectively if you look at her performance on a rugby pitch it’s easy to forget that she is probably the oldest on the field and that she is a prop. There are few props in the international game that come anywhere close to her carries, tackles and her general work rate. Her game stats are the undeniable facts of the pure effort she puts in. Then there are tries. It is hard to find the facts about the number of try’s scored by women in the international game but I imagine Rocky’s try count for England is in the low teens. This is from the front row.
If you watch her at club level she works even harder and I find myself out of breath watching the commitment she puts into it. The thing about Rocky is her enthusiasm for playing the game. No matter what the game, or what the level, she will not shy away from giving 100% to it.
Off of the field her commitment to the teams she coaches as well is massive. The impact she and her coaching partner Kat Merchant had on Chesham rugby club is huge. As a player (for about 4 games) she improved my game. As coach I have learnt more from her than any other coach I have ever worked with. I would say she is my biggest coaching influence and probably mentor. She is tough and sets incredibly high standards. I feel lucky to belong to a club that took on Women’s coaches and have reaped the rewards where most clubs would have felt there was an element of risk that was too high. As a playing squad we have improved beyond measure and have a coaching set up in place that clubs 3 or 4 levels above would envy.
I was lucky enough to get her to do some guest sessions with the women’s team I currently coach and the impact that had on our team was huge, she pushed the women harder and further in 50 minutes than I had managed in 4 sessions. She casts a big shadow and is a perfect example of what is achievable with commitment and hard work.
I have seen Rocky go to the gym when in a condition most people wouldn’t even leave their beds. I have seen her in pain and still without a single moment of doubt that she would ever give up.
I made the mistake of joining her for a gym session once, I happily picked up some 28KG dumbbells and bench pressed them. Turning to see Rocky using 38kg ones and banging out 8 reps. In a moment of ego I said I would try them, I felt it was the least I should be able to do. I am not ashamed to say it, I couldn’t even lift the umbels off my chest and Rocky had to help me back up to my feet. I never did another gym session with her again.
It’s hard to make comparisons between male and female athletes but I always wonder what she would have achieved as a man in professional rugby and where she would be. I think she would probably be on Toulon’s books sunning her pale skin in the south of France and earning a fortune.
I also wonder where she will be in the years to come. I am certain of one thing she will still be playing rugby. I can’t see her ever giving up. I think she would play for anyone at any level if she could get a game and hopefully she will continue to coach and continue to be the huge influence she is on many young women and men in rugby.
For now I just want to say how immensely proud I am of her and wish her well and much love on her 90th cap.