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A day in the life of England prop Sophie Hemming

15 July 2010

Unlike their male counterparts England women’s rugby players are not paid to play the game. All either work fulltime or are studying so their considerable on-pitch success, which has most recently seen a fifth RBS 6 Nations title added to the trophy cabinet, is all the more remarkable.

As training for this summer’s Women’s Rugby World Cup intensifies, pulled on a surgical mask and a pair of latex gloves and caught up with England’s Sophie Hemming. The prop, who has racked up 31 caps for her country, is a veterinary surgeon Monday to Friday and so says Sophie, the professions have similar traits:

Sophie Hemming prepares to lead the England pack into the scrum against Wales

Photo: RFU Archive

“Combining a full time job as a veterinary surgeon, and training for this summer’s World Cup requires many early morning training sessions before work.

I’m not the best ‘morning person’ (as my Mum will testify!) so I have to pack up my training gear and work clothes the night before.

I’ve only made the mistake of forgetting to pack my work clothes once; when I had to examine animals in shorts and trainers!

Getting up for training this morning was definitely more of a struggle than normal having spent four days in an England training camp, followed by three days with the Welsh Guards in the Brecon Beacons. After sleeping under the stars on roll mats and plastic mattresses, my bed was far too comfortable...

The alarm goes off at 5.50am, and I head to Bath University armed with a pre-training protein shake and a much needed travel mug full of coffee. 

The session starts at 7am, with England training buddies Cath Spencer (No. 8) and Kim Oliver (centre). After an hour and a half, it’s time for a quick shower and the dash to work. In the three years I’ve been playing for England, not only have I become a master of packing and unpacking bags, but I’m also pro at the speed shower and change!

I grab another protein shake, run to the car and head to work. Today I drove to the practice, Avenue Vets in North Bristol, through the stress of Bath in rush hour, but I often head straight out to farm visits in the local area.

Large animal calls are the order of the day

Sophie Hemming in her day job as a vet

Photo: RFU Archive

As a ‘mixed vet’, my work varies greatly. Generally, three to four mornings a week will be spent on large animal calls (visiting sick livestock) or on routine farm visits (TB testing cattle, doing fertility work etc).

The farm work can be very physical – only a couple of weeks ago I spent three hours chasing a group of uncooperative calves round a field.

I was tempted to put this down as a fitness session! Calvings and operating on cattle can also be very strenuous, and I am often grateful for the strength work I put in at the gym.

Today, however, started with a fully booked morning surgery. I consult on dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, rats and occasionally reptiles. After surgery finished, I anaesthetised a cat in order to extract some diseased teeth.

I live close to the practice, so if I get time for a lunch break I try to pop home and make sure I eat something decent. Otherwise I grab something from the box of snacks and shakes I keep in my car.

Today, between messages and case follow-ups I managed to pop home for some food, and to put on the first of many post-camp washing loads!

Primed and ready for the early morning call

Sophie Hemming in action for England against Scotland

Photo: RFU Archive

Then it was back to the practice for afternoon, and evening surgery. After finishing my last consultation at 7pm, I stayed to help one of my colleagues x-ray a cat with a suspected gun-shot injury, then headed home at about 7.30pm, armed with the on-call pager.

I’m generally on-call one night a week, and one weekend each month. Unfortunately I do have to work the next day, whether I’ve had a busy night or not!

On a plus side, my experiences of being on-call gave me an advantage with the Welsh Guards this week, as I have got well practiced at jumping out of bed and being ready for action in a matter of minute!

My last duty of the day today was heading back into work at 11.30pm to check on a couple of hospitalised patients and give them medication. Then, it was back home to bed, hoping for a quiet night on call prior to heading into work for 8.30am tomorrow morning!"

You can check out how the Women's side got on at their Army training camp and don't forget to stay up to date with all of the latest England Women's news as Gary Street's side prepare for the Women's Rugby World Cup, which is to be held in England this August.