Marlie Packer

Time to reflect

The pressure of staying at the top of your game brings with it demands for any athlete. In a heartfelt account, Marlie looks back at the last two years and her journey on the road to Rio Olympics 2016.

It’s been a long two years working towards the Rio Olympics – to become an Olympian is the pinnacle of anyone's rugby career. I’ve missed that chance. It's hard to swallow, but some of my closest friends have been given that chance and I'm so happy and proud of them.

The journey over the past two years has been an emotional one. It's had some highs and lows and I've made some amazing memories. England left it until the final game of the World Series to qualify for the Olympic Games. When I cast my mind back to that game I don’t know how we did it, it was a hard game against the USA. But we did it! The final game of the series! When the final whistle went it was unbelievable. All I remember was putting my hands in the air and dropping down to my knees with the feeling of relief, excitement and happiness… and the next thing I knew, we were all jumping on top of each other and couldn’t believe that we had done it.

After this, we had summer break. We were given some time to recharge and take some time off training. Over that time I got injured, so I decided to go travelling with two very close friends of mine. It was a great experience but without even realising, I'd hit a low. I came back from the break and had skinfold testing, the results were far from great. Skinfolds had always been my Achilles heel. I worked hard for six weeks, doing extra sessions and focusing on my diet. I wasn't able to train with the rest of the squad, which was horrible but it did drive me.

England would begin their 2016 Rugby World Series in Dubai, I'd been selected to play within the GB team in the invitational tournament that runs alongside this World Series leg. It was the first tournament that GB competed in. We went on to win that tournament! That in itself was a great feeling. I really enjoyed being a part of that squad. At the same time as celebrating the GB team's success I had a desire to be competing against the best in the world and that would mean the World Series with England.

I came back, kept working hard until after Christmas and I got my shot. I was selected to go to Brazil with England for the next round of the Rugby World Series. At this time I also realised that I'd been losing the battle with depression, one that I'd been fighting for the past couple of years. It was getting the better of me again.

I got lost and stopped being myself, not wanting to train and missing the enjoyment I once felt. Not doing the simplest things in the day and not replying to people, people that I knew cared about me, that just wanted to check in with me. Some days I didn’t even want to get out of bed, sometimes I would just sleep for days (I called this duvet diving). All the time I was in Brazil, I felt that I was physically there, but I just felt like I was constantly riding the wave of thoughts of not being here or there anymore. I think it was actually the first time I had an actual conversation about how I was feeling (lucky roommate).

When I got back from Brazil, I knew I had to do something about it otherwise I was never going to make it to Rio. I got the go from my England Rugby doctor, who I have so much to thank for, along with the RPA who worked with me to help me get back to my normal self. I needed to take a look at myself and assess why I was feeling how I was feeling. I had to ask myself if rugby really made me happy anymore.

It didn’t take me long to work out that rugby means everything to me. I just needed to break away from the vicious cycle that was holding me back, and in this case it was my lifestyle and food choices getting in the way. I found I was eating to make myself feel better, when in fact, it was doing the opposite and making me feel worse. It didn’t help that I began to isolate myself from people. I had lost my bubbly self and pulled away from my close friends within the squad; I think it was down to me feeling like I was letting them down.

A couple of months had passed, my medication started to work and my self-worth had come back and I believed that I was good enough to be in the situation that I was in. My interaction with the squad also increased as I started to spend a lot more time with some of the girls, and not just being the joker within the group but having a real voice again.

It was at this time that my skinfolds went up and because of this I wasn’t up for selection for big competitions in Atlanta or Langford. I was absolutely gutted. I had managed to reduce them so low in the past and I really didn't think that this would have been an issue. I rang my coach on selection day, who confirmed that the reason I wasn’t up for selection was down to my skinfolds - the decision had been made and that’s how it was. It was just a case of accepting his decision.

It was so hard to sit back and watch. The girls did really well in Langford, I was so happy for them, but it made me realise that the competition for the forward spots had gotten even tighter. I saw the player who was selected instead of me have two outstanding tournaments and grow within the role that I once played in, offering a different style of play which worked for the team. Knowing the strengths of my game and what I could offer to the team, I felt that I had to do something very special in training over the next few months if I was to compete for that spot.

When the girls returned from the tournaments, following a victory at Langford, I just kept my head down, doing what I needed to do for myself. I could feel that the mood in training had changed and was more focused on new combinations. This made me even more determined to keep proving that I should be selected. Two weeks before the Clermont (last World Series tournament) squad was announced, I played in the London invitational tournament for Team GB. The pressure was on! In my head, I knew that if I didn’t play well in this tournament I wouldn’t be going to Claremont and without going to Claremont, my shot at Rio would be gone. Day one went really well, but we lost our final game against Canada. So it was all about day two and this is where you had to prove to the coaching team whether you had what it took or not. Sink or swim time…

The first two games went well, we got knocked out in the second game but had our last game against France. We all knew what France were about to bring to us and I knew the tournament had gone really well for me up until this game. It was one last push, but I messed up... in a moment of madness, I head butted a French player! I'm not even sure what I was thinking, or if I was even thinking. As soon as it happened I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I got a yellow card for it! I knew that that was it. My coaches were both disappointed and mad. I had no defence.

As you would have thought I didn’t get selected for Clermont. I had an in house disciplinary. This resulted in a three match ban. At that point, deep down, I knew it was over and that I just needed to enjoy the next few months. We went to Russia for a tournament and won the plate as the GB Royals. That was followed by a training camp in Wales. It was on that Friday that the squad selection for the Olympics would be announced to the players. On the Tuesday of that week I was told if I didn't get selected for Rio, that I would be going on England 15's summer tour in America. Right then I knew deep down I wasn't going and two nights later I was told that I was actually back in the mix to be selected for Rio... but that wasn't to be.

This is a little insight into my journey of the 2016 7's season, in build up to the Rio Olympics. I write this as I'm sat in the airport waiting to fly to Rio, as a supporter. I honestly couldn’t be prouder of the girls out there. I take pride in playing a part in Great Britain's journey to the Olympic Games. I gave it everything and I've come out the other side a better person, and a rugby player.Marlie Packer in Rio

I'd like to thank every one who has supported me in my journey and believed in me. I'm sorry I didn’t make it to the final destination, but I've learnt a hell of a lot from the journey. My mum has been my rock, she's been there for phone calls full of tears and the phone calls full of laughter. To HomeServe, the company I work for, I wouldn't have ever got this far if it wasn't for your support. You've all been amazing and I can't thank you enough.

"If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great" Tom Hanks

Roll on 2017's 15s World Cup!

Marlie