February 11, 2016

The Obstacles Rhona Lloyd Overcame Gaining International Honours

Written by:
Bruce Aitchison

Rhona Lloyd - Scotland Cap

Sometimes people achieve their potential, players rise to the top and when you know how hard the climb was you feel immense pride for them. Being aware of the struggles and obstacles they had to overcome to achieve their goal means you only wish them success after success.

I am lucky enough to feel all of that because I was Rhona Lloyd's PE teacher. Rhona's story is an example of what is possible when the natural physical attributes are matched with the correct mindset, immense work ethic and a tremendous support structure. Rhona has all of those, and what's more she has had them for a long time.

I'll never forget the first time Rhona was in front of me. The parents of the then P7 cohort, soon to be S1s, we're invited to an information evening at Tynecastle High School. There were various presentations and I made mine. At the end I asked the audience if they had any questions. The parents sat in stony silence and the students were likewise. Apart from Rhona. The hand went up and she asked a question for clarification.

She wasn't being cheeky, she hadn't missed anything and the question was absolutely relevant. What does this show?

Rhona wanted to know what she needed to do.

And she wanted to do it right. If that meant asking in front of a crowd, then she would ask. I was looking forward to seeing her after the summer holidays.

When Rhona made it into S1 she was to begin an incredible journey. She was into everything. In her time at an inner city secondary school where there are always distractions and temptations, she always loved giving 100% and had a huge desire to do her best and be the best. Rhona is very single minded and got fully involved in school, but was also very busy outside of school.

Rhona competed in athletics (where I gave her some support and tried to encourage her into that discipline), she played Basketball and trained with the boys team (and was one of the better players due to her outrageous desire to be competitive), she played football, she was in the Panto, she plays music, she danced in shows, she went on the water sports trip to Spain, she went to Bolivia with the World Challenge group… I’m sure I’ll have forgotten some!

She was in the Cadets outside of school, attended music concerts and did the things normal teenagers did, and loved her rugby. She played for Murrayfield Wanderers and I remember watching her run the length of the pitch again and again to score tries during age group games. All the while with her Welsh, rugby mad father on the side line screaming his encouragement for his daughter. The support Rhona has from her wide reaching friendship group, her older brother and her parents has allowed her to take risks, knowing she would be supported in her decisions.

The school has a sports awards night every year. The night was concluded with the overall award for Sportsperson of the year. Its needs to be renamed the ‘Rhona’. Rhona won it every year. When guests would leave at the end of the night, from Geoff Cross to Paul Hanlon to Campbell Flockhart, they would always comment on her achievement and personality. She would be player of the year in a variety of activities and always won the ‘Biggy’. In her final year I got to award her the prize. I was immensely proud and I have to admit a little emotional. You can read over and over again the issues around women in sport, Rhona experienced them all and dealt with them like any opponent in her way, she swerved them, ran over them or treated them like they weren’t even there. And for that my pride changes to complete admiration. I spoke of her as a role model, and as a dad of 2 girls, my hope that my girls can display some the fantastic elements of Rhona’s example.

Rhona was called names for giving maximum effort, she was called names for excelling in sport, she was called names for studying hard to pass her exams so she could go to Edinburgh University. One of my clearest memories was speaking to her in the PE office with department colleagues after an incident of name calling and reassuring her that it would be something to laugh at in future when she was far away from school. But at the time, I knew it hurt. She needed support, took the hurt and used it as more fuel for her motivation.

Rhona wasn’t selected to be part of the new BT Rugby Academy, even though she was excelling in the fitness tests and was an outstanding prospect who scored 2 tries in the Cup Final at Murrayfield. I watched on from the tunnel as Boroughmuir prepared for their moment in the April sunshine with the joy calming the anticipation bubbling inside. This didn’t see her throw up her arms in despair or point the finger or look for attention elsewhere. Rhona worked harder.

Playing for Murrayfield Wanderers and Edinburgh University she continued to score tries, work hard on her conditioning and give performances that showed she wasn’t giving up. Rhona was getting stronger. After a trip to Spain with the Scotland squad and again dotting down with the ease of Shane Williams in his prime, Rhona got the call. The goal almost achieved. A white 11 on the back of a Scotland shirt. The next step? To play and win for Scotland. That will be the ultimate achievement. And like the story so far, if Rhona has to will, she’ll find the way.

Rhona isn’t and wasn’t perfect. She made mistakes. The kind of mistakes all teenagers make. But her character meant that she learnt from them and it made her a stronger person. She is better today than she was yesterday but not as good as she’ll be tomorrow. The biggest compliment I can give her? The ultimate trust. She has and hopefully will again, babysit for my daughters Maisie and Katy who think she is brilliant and who ask about her all the time. I hope to take them both to watch their hero in a Scotland jersey soon. I hope they look up to her and think ‘I want something like that and I’m gonna do my damdest to go get it’. And again, I’ll watch with a mixture of pride and total admiration.

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