Wales and Saracens scrum-half Jade Knight is treasuring some much needed time with her family back in Wales after putting her commitment to midwifery first during much of 2020
Once the pandemic struck, the focus of the 31-year-old’s life turned fully to her work in maternity care at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. Sacrifices were numerous – and significant. “My husband and son, Emrys went to stay with my in-laws in Lincolnshire, so I was away from them for three months. I’d speak to Emrys on FaceTime, and if he started to cry, that’s when it got really tough.”
She threw herself into her shift work and “trained like a crazy person” to distract herself. The scrum-half from West Wales had to cope with all that without her main outlet in life. “My biggest coping mechanism normally is rugby, and that was taken away from me straight away,” says the Saracens player, who was capped by Wales against Scotland in 2018. “It meant having to find new coping mechanisms.”
A self-confessed over-thinker, Knight took the term ‘keeping busy’ to a whole new level, enrolling on a number of courses that have improved both her personal and professional life. “Without being able to do rugby training, I asked myself what I was lacking as an athlete. Nutrition is something massive which I’ve neglected for so long, so I thought why not do a nutrition course?” She also improved her culinary skills, though more out of necessity since she was now living alone in an apartment in Ealing. “I still managed to catch my oven on fire over Christmas, though,” she laughs.
Intriguingly, adding a string to her midwifery bow, she took a course in hypnobirthing. “When I was pregnant I had tokophobia, which is a fear of childbirth,” she explains. “A lot of women have it to one degree or another. Hypnobirthing is a bit like Marmite: it works for some people and not for others. Athletes use visualisation techniques, and it’s exactly the same with hypnobirthing. You learn how to stay calm, how to visualise succeeding at giving birth.”
A psychological buttress is crucial for any healthcare professional, and something Knight regularly needed to call upon in the heightened stages of the pandemic. “I did some of the worst shifts of my career during that time,” she reveals. “We saw some emergencies that you don’t really hear of in this country; things you’d normally associate with third-world countries where they don’t have the access to medical care that we have here.”
Challenges lay everywhere, she says. “On top of these tough emergencies we were having to adapt to wearing all the PPE, dealing with mothers’ partners who were being abusive towards us because they didn’t have the access to their wives or girlfriends. It was a tough period. Then it eased off, everyone was happy again, but now it looks like it’s going back to the same situation.”
At the moment, Knight is watching things from afar. She moved back to her hometown of Llanelli very recently. “I’m finished in Imperial so I’m taking some time to recover and plan my next steps of my career in midwifery,” she says. She’s converted her grandmother’s conservatory into a gym (you can see some of Knight’s impressive feats of strength on her Instagram page). “She was delighted about that,” Knight says, very much sarcastically.
Despite the current lockdown, Knight is still able to continue her rugby at club level with Saracens. In fact, she is one of the 90% of the current Welsh training squad who feature in the Allianz Premier 15s. “It’s amazing how the Premier 15s has actually got up and running this year, we are so grateful for that level of competition” she says.
She has been impressed by the new Wales coaching set-up, spearheaded by the South African Warren Abrahams. “Warren seems like a really inspiring guy who has such a calming influence. You feel like you can play freely without fear of making a mistake.” Joining him are Rachel Taylor and Sophie Spence, both well-respected former internationals for Wales and Ireland respectively. “It’s great having female coaches who’ve played at a high level and are both role models. Their input in training is huge.”
Being back in God’s Country means Jade can concentrate on home-schooling and rugby for now without having to make the dreaded two-hour-plus commute to Wales training. “It already makes such a difference going into training feeling a bit more fresh. I’m not looking too far in advance but I really want to borrow that Wales jersey again and I look forward to every training session.
“Family means everything to me. Whenever you have a tough match or shift, you always put that in perspective – the most important thing to me is my little family. Second to that is my culture – we made sure Emrys went to the London Welsh school and now being back in Wales, close to the beach and forest close to me and being able to speak Cymraeg is so important to me.”
Jade had some high profile role models, both within her family and from the women’s game when she was younger.
“My uncle, Mark Taylor who scored the first try at what was the Millennium Stadium isn’t a bad person to have around the house – he still has a better hand-off than me! And I decided I wanted to play for Wales after being a mascot for a Wales Women match against England, captained by Liza Burgess. My family thought I was mad but I was determined. Liza went on to coach me in sevens and gave me a chance for Crawshay’s against Wales last year so I’m very grateful.”
“It’s so nice to be back in the Wales environment. It’s like coming home.”