02 April 2020

She plays in the backs for Worcester and England rugby, now Lydia Thompson is returning to the frontline for the NHS

England rugby star Lydia Thompson knows what it's like to play for her country - now she's answering a different call, to return to the NHS.

Both Thompson and her husband Tom are qualified occupational therapists and have contacted the NHS about heading to the frontline of the outbreak.

"I have been supported by the RFU [Rugby Football Union] to go back, so I have also applied," said Thompson.

"Me and my husband have only had great experiences of working in the NHS. We've kept in touch with our former colleagues and we're just so impressed and inspired by how hard they're working, how they're adapting and how people are changing to adapt to their new job roles. It's really important and we want to support them."

And in an exclusive interview with NewsChain, Thompson said although she'll worry about her husband being on the frontline, the overall NHS need for help is more important.

"You worry and are supportive at the same time. I'm hearing from people who have gone back in and are working on the front line. It is really scary in many ways but it is really important.

"You can only hope he's fit and well. He does Ironman's and triathlons so you hope he's in fit, physical shape. But you also hear that fit people are being affected by Covid so you hope for the best. He's trying to remain positive but also aware of the situation.

"As soon as I realised it was an option for me to go back into the NHS, me and my husband, it wasn't something we questioned. I contacted the RFU and they were fantastically supportive of it.

"I am going to continue rugby training, the bigger picture as a rugby player is the World Cup [next year] but there are other things in life that matter more right now."

Thompson's husband, Tom, has applied to work for the NHS during the pandemic (Twitter: Tom OT)

Alongside being given a rigorous physical training schedule by England, both Thompson's club, Worcester Warriors, and national squads are attempting to creatively remain in contact during the lockdown.

The winger said: "From last week to this week training has changed dramatically but we still have a weekly schedule that England are sending us with all our training in. 

"I'm really lucky I've got a gym that I've built at home which makes it a lot easier. I'm still training every day and as we've got that one exercise slot [set out by the government] that we're allowed to use. I'm trying to make the most of that to get out and do my running sessions. 

"Then we are still doing meetings, but they've become more of an online platform through Skype or Zoom. Last night I had a backs meeting with Worcester through Zoom which is brilliant because everyone was in their pyjamas, it's so funny seeing people in their home environment."

As well as keeping their professional training going, Worcester have managed to keep the social aspect of rugby afloat.

"We have been looking at doing a work out together on Zoom which would be good. We did have a pub quiz on Saturday which was so good, that has been well organised by staff.  We are making the most of these apps that can bring us together.

"[The team socials] are a bit cheaper! We can all sit in the comfort of our own home and still connect and it does remind you of why you do play rugby. The love of the sport and the love of the people. It's sharing those moments and it's making sure we can still connect creatively as a team and do those team building activities."

The 28 year-old also shared her pride in the fact that both her club and country were emphasising the importance of mental well-being during this self-isolation period.

"It's great that it has been recognised by both England and Worcester. It's shown how important mindfulness is and how important it is to take some head space. I use the apps Headspace and Calm because I think it's important to have that time to look after your mental side and I think we are talking about it more.

"This [pandemic] is stressful. This is a very scary time to be honest. We are all going to be affected, we may know someone who may go through this. It is very scary, the unknown is very scary.

"We're not alone with those thoughts, no one is a super hero and only has positive thoughts. We do have the worry and anxiety so the fact we're talking about it at club and England level is really important."

Thompson, in the number 14 shirt, has been using technology to stay in touch with England and Worcester team mates (PA Images)

It's not just her team-mates that she has maintained a strong connection with. Her family are extremely important to her and she has felt a particular need to help her elderly relatives.

"You do worry about relatives. I'm trying to keep in touch with them and help. I think in the next couple of weeks there's going to be new challenges so just making sure I'm keeping in touch with everyone and offering any help that I can. 

"Doing a bit of shopping for some of my elderly relatives has been really important. I've been trying to teach my grandma how to FaceTime which is hilarious. People have been sharing those photos where they're [older generation] still putting their phone to their ear and it's brilliant!

"But it's about giving them those bits of normality and trying to make them not feel alone. That's been important for me, to connect with those loved ones and making sure they feel okay which has a big impact on keeping me well at the same time."

Thompson has played for Worcester since 2013 (Worcester Warriors)

Thompson plays in the top tier of rugby in England, the Premier 15s, which has had its season cancelled due to the coronavirus. 

As well as this, Thompson was a part of England's Six Nations campaign where the side had secured four wins from four with only one fixture against Italy left to play.

The Red Roses match against Wales earlier this month broke the attendance record in the Women's Six Nations with 10,974 tickets being sold, highlighting the growth of the women's game.

The Six Nations was also postponed due to the pandemic before England could attempt to win the Grand Slam. While Thompson says there's a bigger picture to think of at the moment, she hopes women's rugby continues to grow.

"It felt fantastic having that many people in The Stoop, it was incredible. It was an amazing range of fans and supporters. It was great to see so many young faces, so many potential future Red Roses in the crowd, that was amazing.

"I really hope that does continue to grow and really, for me, it's getting more girls playing and loving rugby. Hopefully the grassroots side of rugby won't be affected too much and those girls that were watching will continue to play in their clubs and continue to grow their skills.

"I really hope the women's game does continue to grow despite this happening."

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