Scotland Women centre Hannah Smith is targeting winning a spot at the Olympics, and so focused is she on reaching that goal that she has taken a sabbatical from her career as a vet to pursue her rugby dream.
Smith was one of six Scots named in the Team GB training squad that will prepare for Tokyo and she admitted it was a “huge honour” to be in the squad again, having been selected last year only for COVID-19 to force the postponement of the Olympics.
“It’s just really exciting to have it happening. Last year it was quite disappointing to have everything pushed back when we were just starting to get underway with it all, but it’s really exciting to be part of it all.”
The squad did manage one camp at Oriam, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, before the first lockdown last year, and Hannah is looking forward to resuming training at Loughborough University but admits even the thought of making the final squad is too much to comprehend.
“It’s such a huge thing to consider,” she said. “Every time I think about it, I feel a bit sick.”
So determined is the 28-year-old to make it to the Olympics that Smith is solely focused on rugby, having taken a step back from her career to pursue her rugby dreams.
“That has made a huge, huge difference to me and my ability to train and perform. Having that has been a godsend and being able to just focus on rugby – I knew it was going to be a big year and I wanted to give myself the best chance for everything – so for me it’s a lot easier because I’m not having to work.
“I was struggling to balance my work and rugby – it was becoming too much – and Scottish Rugby luckily were happy to help me out and get me off work because I was starting to struggle training at a high level.
“I was picking up niggles because I was on my feet all the time at work – it’s the little things you don’t really think about, so being off work has made a huge difference to me.”
It was last February when Scotland travelled to Italy for their Women’s Six Nations clash, only for it to be postponed due to the severity of the COVID outbreak in the Lombardy region.
How do you inspire your rugby mad #3 son that vet medicine could be a good career choice? Easy, see practice for the day and spend time with Scottish Rugby International Hannah Smith MRCVS #VetPassport pic.twitter.com/l0mWBchN48
— ??? ?????? (@bigdatasynergy) May 18, 2018
A year later, they’ve made it onto the field just the once – a 13-13 draw with France behind closed doors in Glasgow – and Smith admits there have been “a lot of ups and downs” for the squad to deal with in the past 12 months.
“We’ve all responded really well,” said Hannah. “There’s a good buzz about camp. It’s been the longest pre-season ever but it’s been good to all band together and just focus on the next thing, so it’s been quite positive really.
— Women's Rugby Comp (@WomRugbyComp) April 26, 2017
“It’s a bit disappointing when [tournaments] get pushed back but at the same time everyone has rallied together and we’re training hard. It’s a good group to be a part of.”
Scotland will also have World Cup qualifiers – initially planned for last September, then pushed back to December before being postponed again – to play as they aim to reach next year’s rescheduled World Cup in New Zealand, another victim of the pandemic this year.
Despite the postponements, Smith insists the mood among the Scotland Women camp is positive: “Everyone is fighting to improve and get better for the squad.
“Everyone is working so hard because they know the end goal is to get to a World Cup so everybody is so positive just now.”
Not everything has been positive over the past 12 months, with her brother Matt discussing his mental health struggles as he opted to step away from the game, and Hannah revealed what that had been like for the Smith family.
ICYMI: The now-retired Glasgow flanker Matt Smith spoke to RugbyPass in July about the harrowing mental health battle that at times had him standing in the shower with a belt wrapped tightly around his neck – w/@JLyall93 ???https://t.co/lhwA6FDC04
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 30, 2020
“I’ve been given so much through rugby and to have my brother struggle so much with things, it breaks your heart.
“He phoned me one day and he was just a mess, and it was horrible to hear that, but I think ultimately it’s been a great decision for him to step away from it.”
Matt is now “back to his old self”, Hannah said. “It was really hard as a family to accept he wasn’t going to make it and we always thought he would, but he’s so much better off now. He’s a happy boy and that’s all you want for him.”
Hannah could add to the ever-improving feeling within the Smith household if she is able to earn a place in the Team GB squad for the Olympics later this year.
“I’ve tried not to let myself get too carried away thinking about it and just try and focus on the task at hand at the moment, play rugby and keep myself fit and injury-free.”
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