Rachael Burford has broken barriers. In 2016, she became the first female professional player on the RPA (Rugby Players Association) Board and has competed for England in four Rugby World Cups. Rachael now has her own training academy, she is captain of Harlequins Women’s team, and, much to our delight, is now a FitrWoman Ambassador. We caught up with Rachael to find out more about her life as an athlete.

How did you get into rugby?

I first got into rugby when I was six years old because my mum, dad and sisters all played – I just wanted to do what they were doing. At first, I played on a mixed team and then at aged 12 I transitioned to an all-girls team at Medway RFC. The whole time I was able to look up to my mum and sisters and I just loved to play so I didn’t question the transition to playing on a girls team.  

Women's rugby team

Where did you go for there?

When I was 12, I was selected to play in the under 16s for my county and on the back of that I was selected to represent the South East. At 13, I went to an England training camp and from there I entered their talent pathway. I got my first international call up at 19 – the World Cup in 2006! I didn’t ever feel that there was a lot of pressure. For me, it was just more opportunity to play rugby! It has always been a big part of my life – the community as well as the physical game and training.  

 

Do you have a female athlete that you admire?

Serena Williams! She is a phenomenal athlete in terms of her achievements, but I also admire her for what she’s done off the court. She’s a great pioneer for women (especially her recent return to play after having her baby), she has good integrity and she stands up for what she believes in.

 

Talk to us about a typical day...

I don’t really have a typical day, but one of the biggest training days we have is a Thursday. The full-time professionals start at about 12 pm with some weights and conditioning and/or skills training that is specific to their position (i.e. forwards or backs). Then there are meetings in the day to go over the details of structures and plays, and if there is a game on we’ll meet to discuss plans for the match. Then we have training from 7 to 9 pm! For the professionals, it's quite intense but for the semi-pros it’s also hard because they have to work during the day…for some of them it’s a 5 am to 10 pm working day. Luckily, we get great quality food at the club which is cooked for us by a chef, and I try to make sure that our girls have food-prepped so they’re not having dinner at 10.30 pm at night when they get home.

 

What do you do in your downtime?

I have two amazing dogs called Rolo and Mokka. They’re great and, while they run me ragged sometimes, no matter how tough things are, they always put a smile on my face. I spend a lot of time walking them! I also think that going to the cinema can be the perfect place to switch off, as well as being with friends and family.

Two very cute springer spaniels in the back of a car

Do you have any pre-match superstitions?

I always have to have a coffee! My manager always has it ready and waiting for me or I take a portable coffee machine with me. I try not to get too excited or be too chilled out before a match. In my role as captain at the Quins, I know that I need to think about me, but I also try to be conscious about ensuring the changing room is relaxed but focused.

 

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say to always enjoy it, even the tough times, and to remember why you’re doing it – that you love playing the game. The tough times go away and don’t last long. You always become better after those times and they make you stronger and a better person and a better player.

Rachael Burford and her two cute springer spaniels

How has FitrWoman helped you?

FitrWoman has made me aware of my menstrual cycle and helped me to understand more about the phases I am in. If I’m feeling a certain way, I can look at the information in the app and understand why – I can almost relax more because I understand my body and what it’s going through and I know that there are things that I can implement into my life to help. I am definitely still learning and understanding though! The more I do so, the more I can make subtle changes to my diet, lifestyle etc. and also help the other girls to do the same.

To keep up to date with Rachael, you can follow her on Twitter

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