Chelsea Alley, who was part of the Chiefs side that beat the Blues 39-13 in the historic Super Rugby women's clash last Saturday, has opened up on the physical and mental toll of having to juggle three jobs with playing rugby semi-professionally.
The Black Ferns and Waikato midfielder took to Instagram to express a reality check on just how far women's rugby has to go following the monumental weekend for the sport, saying she is "struggling" to find balance in her "crazy life".
"I. Am. STRUGGLING," she wrote in a lengthy post on her social media account.
"Over the last 10 years I've been a club, FPC, NZ & now a Super Rugby representative I've become accustomed to this feeling. It's a glimmer of what we train so hard for - to play on a big stage, in a massive game & represent yourself, your family, friends & community.
"There's media exposure, interviews, hype, support, crowds, fans & celebrations.. all of that stuff in the week leading up. It feels amazing to be doing this with your teammates.
"Then from Monday morning, that all starts to fade. Reality hits again."
Alley says the early alarms and trainings, along with having to juggle three jobs has led to her almost burning out.
"It's setting early alarms and getting up at 5.30am to get your training in before you go to work for the day (still sore from the weekend), finding time to prepare meals because you know you'll also be getting home well past dark 4+ nights a week from your various evening team trainings, rushing to a physio appt in your lunch break, squeezing in time to see your partner & family in short bursts where you can so you try not to burn out mentally and add a little bit of balance to your crazy life.
"For me personally this week - it's working THREE jobs because I have bills to pay. It's playing in THREE different teams in a week and being expected to switch on & perform well in all of them. I need to lead by example in Club, FPC & Super Rugby - all of these teams we don't get paid anything AT ALL to play for."
The 28-year-old, like many in women's sport, has had to deal with a lack of resources and investment, while still being expected to perform at their best on and off the field.
"We get minimum resources. That’s normal. We train hard morning & night because we know there is massive pressure & expectation for us to be the best. To be fitter, faster & stronger than any other player in the country & in the world. We do it because we [love] the game. But I'm wondering at what point does the level we've got to become personally unsustainable with the resources we're given?
"Women's rugby has definitely come a long, long way.. I am proud to play a small role in its growth over the years … But behind the scenes - I believe there is still a heck of a long way to go."
Alley says her post wasn't meant to be a complaint but merely a reflection of the real experience that many women go through in the current rugby landscape.
"I fully understand that I've been lucky enough to be chosen to be a semi-professional women’s rugby player.. Something trailblazers before me worked so hard for! For us to reap some of these rewards and for these mana wāhine I am honestly forever thankful! But I am starting to feel the weight of this crazy, blessed, hectic, HARD yet rewarding life a decade later.
"This is not a complaint. This is just reality. This is why I will keep fighting for us so that future FPC, Super Rugby & Black Ferns stars have an actual sustainable career. We can't settle because if the amazing ladies before us settled we wouldn't be where we are today.
"I am grateful. But in all honesty - I'm also tired of being told to 'just be grateful'. When do we get to stand up & say that we deserve more without being made to feel like we're demanding & unappreciative?"
Alley's post received a flood of support from fellow New Zealand rugby players, including All Black Ardie Savea and Black Ferns Sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong.
In 2018, NZ Rugby announced that 30 of the country's top women's players would receive contracts worth up to $45,000 per year.