My time at the University of York Women’s Rugby Club has simultaneously been the most challenging and easiest years of my life. Challenging due to how much my fitness has been tested; my ability, my stamina, mental and physical strength, and speed; yet so easy because of the experiences you have as a member, the team spirit you are immediately part of, the new friendships you create, and the feeling of achievement at the end of a game. Being part of such a successful club throughout my time at the University of York has challenged me in so many ways and I have come out a better, and much stronger, person for it.
Lockdown has been a particularly challenging part of both leading the club and being a member of it. You aren’t quite able to find the same rewards that you once did previously, whether that was from finding your name on the team-sheet for next Wednesday’s game, winning in BUCS, scoring a great team try, or playing in the biggest match of your university career at Roses. The club has had to find new ways to continue in spite of a huge overhaul to our usual activity - with training cancelled, no BUCS leagues to concentrate on or a Roses fixture to dominate - and has presented a whole new set of challenges in addition to new things to be thankful for.
Ultimately, the club has only been able to train for 5 weeks this academic year. Successive lockdowns completely halted our ability to offer training or to play any form of competitive rugby. Faced with this, we moved our activity online. Twice-weekly zoom workouts have been the new norm, with captains Amelia and Molli thinking up new ways to keep players engaged, and physically fit, throughout lockdown. Committee members have hosted their own weekly workouts for the club to get involved in, ranging from One Direction and High School Musical themed HIIT workouts (I knew I joined the club for a reason) to Kung-Fu conditioning. Throughout the Six Nations championship, players were invited to support a team and after each round would have to complete a workout corresponding to how many tries their team scored or conceded, how many penalties or errors were made; with extra punishments for those whose team lost or were red carded. Pip, our 1XV vice-captain, has been inviting players to join her workouts via zoom 6 days a week. Additionally, last term saw one half of our PPA team, Sara, set up a ‘workout buddy’ scheme for our girls to be randomly assigned in pairs to meet outdoors and exercise. The committee have worked really hard to ensure the spirit of the club has continued throughout lockdown in spite of the increasing number of challenges faced.
Social media has been a crucial element to how the club has continued throughout COVID-19. Staying connected with one another was important to retain the club spirit we have worked so hard to create, to provide a stress relief from university work and to ensure our players are well on a mental, emotional, and physical level. Sara and Zainab, our PPA officers, have sought to boost engagement through our official club pages; by publishing a newsletter at the start of last term; showcasing our alumni through monthly ‘Alumni of the Month’ posts and providing players with a greater understanding of the game through their ‘Position Rundown’ videos. Our social secretaries Bryony, Emmy and Megan have hosted numerous online socials in absence of attending the Forest or our beloved Salvos (if you’re reading this Jason, I miss you). Our Welfare Officer Emma has hosted a weekly ‘wellness hour’ every Wednesday before our zoom workouts for players to drop in if they need a chat or wanted a friendly face to talk to. Our ‘Roses group-chat’ has also been a great way for our players to keep up to date with one another (and share pictures of their dogs).
One thing I am particularly proud of was the club’s involvement in a 24-hour fitness fundraiser earlier in March. Our fundraising and sponsorship secretaries, Lizzy and Michelle, in addition to the previous women + non-binary officers Daisy (also our tour sec!) and Neha, organised a charity fundraiser for IDAS and Women’s Aid. Our players and members of the W+NB network exercised for 24 hours straight on International Women’s Day, the 8th March. The club ended up raising over £800 to be split between the two charities and our involvement and commitment to the cause was truly exceptional.
As in previous years, all of the club’s hard work culminates in a Roses fixture at the end of the year. Coronavirus, like with many things this year, has continued to throw a spanner in the works. Most recently we were dealt the crushing blow that Roses would once again be an online tournament this year. This was a heart-breaking result for all of our players as this would either be their first, or last, Roses. What could we do? We immediately had to find a new goal to work towards.
The promise of a return to outdoor activity at the university from the start of April was our glimmer of hope. Training could soon resume and we would once again be able to play rugby, organise friendly fixtures, and attend socials after a Wednesday’s training! As in club tradition, I have recently been ordained, and will officiate a (very real) wedding between our first team and second team captains later in the summer term. Our captains are already working hard to schedule fixtures for when the restrictions allow us to play, and the club has entered our players into Shelford 7’s tournament for later in July. Looking to the end of June, we may be able to host our first (and what would usually be our last) club event, with the promise of a three-course Captain’s dinner at the Hilton to close out what has been an unforgettable year for UYWRUFC.
What have I learned? Firstly, that I never want to endure another global pandemic again, and I miss getting ripped off for 2 VKs and 2 shots of tequila on a Wednesday night. Most importantly, however, I have realised that I am lucky to be part of a club that cares so much about the community and our players. Whilst I have not actually been able to play a game of rugby with the girls yet, and certainly not against a side that isn’t our own second team, I can proudly say I have never felt more part of the club than this year. The way the girls have continued and sought new ways to stay connected in spite of no physical training, BUCS games, or a physical Roses fixture to work towards, has been a great source of pride. The challenges have been many but we have faced them with conviction, creativity, and we have refused to give up. Has it been difficult to stay positive at times? Absolutely. But the success of the Women’s Rugby club at York doesn’t lie in our ability to dominate in BUCS or concede 0 points in Roses (whilst it is certainly a point of pride). It lies in our players. It has been proven in our ability to continue no matter what was thrown at us and get back up when we have been knocked down. And it is in our ability to always look to the future with a smile on our face knowing that, before we know it, we will soon be back playing rugby on the 22 acres.
UWYRUFC President and Minister of the Universal Life Church