Hearing Heather Fisher talk about her experience of lockdown and how the England Rugby Sevens player has found keeping up her fitness is pretty relatable. Far from being a simple continuation of life and training before the pandemic, she has found her motivation come and go like a rollercoaster.
Fisher, an Olympian who has been playing rugby since 2009 and was a member of the 2014 World Cup-winning squad, was gearing up for the 2020 Olympics until they were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although she viewed it as an opportunity to keep training so that she could return to the pitch fitter than ever, the reality has been challenging.
Fisher explains that she is fortunate to have a gym at home to keep fit, but it’s not the same as playing on the pitch. Over Zoom she recalls: “I think the problem is when you're an athlete, I'm so used to being outside and training that actually, I realised that I wasn't completely me when I wasn't training.”
It’s been an up and down process: “Some days you feel like you’ve got it, some days you just feel so low.” Fisher explains that with her ability to play for England and with her teammates taken away, it can feel like “your identity is gone”. She is philosophical about it, however: “My focus has changed but my purpose is still there as a daily thing.”
Like many of us, Fisher has had to find a new approach to looking after herself. She says: “There's no preparation for Rugby Sevens more than playing it and you can't play it. So I can get as fit as I want but at the end of the day, when it's time to go there, I need to know how to bring it then. And so, I've gone down the route of mentally making sure I'm in the right place and if I'm mentally in the right place, my body will start to follow.”
To take care of her wellbeing, Fisher has embraced using techniques such as mindfulness to help fall asleep. She has also tried to keep up a similar routine to the one she uses when training with England. Cycling and fresh air have also helped.
There is something unique about the impact of the Olympic's being postponed, with its rigid four-year cycle that athletes plan their lives around. For Fisher, who is 36 she says: “I'm probably someone who has a plan A, B, C, D and all of a sudden I feel like I need a plan A, B, C, D E, F, G because I don't know where I'm going to be. So I feel like I'm trying to pull on so many different strings. But it’s probably left me a bit short.”
She has decided to continue working towards the Tokyo Olympics, but it was not a simple decision. Although Fisher says that her gut reaction was to go for it, she recalls how there were a lot of factors she suddenly started to consider including worrying about career paths beyond sport and starting a family.
“Ultimately, I think if I'm healthy in the mind and healthy in my body, then I don't see how I could not compete,” explains Fisher. She adds: “I think I’d regret that for the rest of my life. There are always ways round of having a family or making money or having a business when you get older. But the chance to be at the Olympic Games does not happen very often at all.”
Even with her decision made, it is still not easy, after all, while we all hope that the Olympics will take place next year, it is not a certainty. Given that athletes are used to working towards such set goals, unsurprisingly this has a knock-on effect with motivation.
Fisher says: “You don't really know what you're training for and if you get up in the morning, and you don’t know your goal, you don’t know your dream, what you are you doing, because how you do you motivate yourself, you don't know where you go. I honestly feel at the moment I don't know where I’m going.”
Fisher returns to how her approach throughout lockdown has been to take care of her mental health: “I know where I’m going mentally. I know that I'm kind of going that direction. I'm not sure how it's going to look but I am still aiming for it.”
When I ask her if it looks like she will be able to resume some sort of training back on the pitch, even in a non-contact form, she laughs and says: “Don’t ask me about the RFU.”
Because Rugby Sevens is an international sport, Fisher explains that she doesn’t think they will be back in training until December or January, in part because it will help the RFU save money. She says: “That’s a shame because actually the men’s game isn’t like that and the women’s game was on the up.”
After initially feeling the pressure to maintain her fitness so that she could pick up on the pitch where the team left off at a moment’s notice, Fisher was reassured by her team physio that when training does resume it will be based upon where the players are at that moment, not where their fitness levels were pre-pandemic.
For all Fisher’s candidness about the struggles she has faced as an athlete during this period, she is positive too, and keen to highlight how it has been a challenging period for everyone. Personally, one thing that she has kept her going has been through collaborating with brands and companies which, she says, “has been brilliant”.
“It's been great to do because, for me, it's given me a focus. It's given me something to work towards and actually have deadlines and goals, which is probably what I'm used to."
One of these is working with Simply Health to create videos charting how to maintain wellbeing in lockdown. Focusing on this was important to Fisher because: “We’re all struggling yet we don’t really share the stories.”
Looking at everything from mental health, to how to sleep, to how to slow down, Fisher says she has learnt a lot herself from creating the content. She says: “I hope it's had a positive impact on other people like it has myself because I think actually, we all talk about COVID but none of us goes: ‘How have you coped, what have you actually done, what's helped you that I can install in my own life?’”
These aren't short-term lessons for Fisher. She is determined to take them into life moving forwards as things start to open up again. She says: “I think this is our normal life now and when we start back up, it's taking those lessons like the fact that you had more family time, or you had more time with your partner or you had time to look after yourself and go for that run or eat well and cook that meal that makes you feel good from the inside.”
Heather Fisher is a brand ambassador for Simplyhealth and their Always on Hand campaign