Nicole Beck doesn’t set out to be a sports superhero, but juggling a full-time national Rugby Sevens contract with being a full-time mum to three-year old Sophie means it’s not her choice; it comes with the territory!
The only mum currently in the Australian Women’s Sevens squad, Nicole spoke to us ahead of Mother’s Day to explain how she juggles the two responsibilities along with partner Joel.
“Normally it’s an early wake up for Sophie and I,” Nicole says when I ask her to describe her daily routine. “We have breakfast together, and then she gets ready for day-care and I get ready for training.
“Sometimes we start training before she starts day-care so she’ll come with me to training initially and hang out while we do skills training, and then I will duck off to drop her to day-care and head back in time for our team meeting and field session. Then we have gym in the afternoon and some more skills work, and then I head straight from training to pick her up and head home. And on Wednesday, she comes to training with me for the full day!”
It’s a full-on environment for a three year old, however Nicole believes that being around so many positive role models is a great opportunity for her young daughter.
“Sophie is three years old going on 21!” Nicole laughs. “She’s very strong-willed and very opinionated, and it’s been really good having her around the girls; she definitely thinks she is older than she actually is, but you can see the positive influence being around us and our sport has had on her.
"She’s very active and likes to play lots of games and sport, but she also has a very feminine side and loves to paint her nails and dance. Emma Tonegato and then Evania Pelite have both lived with us at different times (Pelite still does), so they’re definitely two of her favourite players, but she loves everybody and is happy to have half an hour with them all one by one when she comes in on a Wednesday.”
Just how challenging is it being both a parent and an athlete aspiring for Olympic gold?
“Since we moved to a full-time program it has actually been a lot easier than it was when I was working full time, training on top of that and trying to look after Sophie as a baby,” she explains. “Time-wise, I feel like I spend more with her now under this new professional model.
“Occasionally, timings can clash and it’s a little bit hard, but I’ll send (Head Coach) Tim (Walsh) a message to point out when I might be a few minutes late or need to leave early. The whole staff are very understanding and flexible and help me make it work, which I am really grateful for.
“Travelling and being away from her is definitely the hardest part,” she continues. “Most tours are eight or nine days, and then occasionally there are double headers which are even longer, so it’s a fair bit of time away. The Olympics will be the longest time we’ve been apart if I get selected, with about three to four weeks away.”
How does Sophie cope with the realisation that her mum plays a collision sport for a living, and does she enjoy Rugby?
“She understands that I might get hurt; I’ve had surgery twice since she was born, and she knows that injuries happen. She loves Rugby overall; my last trip, I was rested from the tournament in Atlanta and then I joined the squad in Langford (Canada), and as we were heading to the airport the girls were playing in Atlanta in the finals.
“We were watching it together on my phone in the car and at the airport, but then I had to go through to board the plane. She wasn’t too fussed about me leaving; all she cared about was finishing watching the girls play so I had to make sure I set it up for her on another phone!”
Playing professional Rugby while pregnant obviously raises serious safety concerns. Whilst there are no set protocols at this point in time about how pregnancy would affect players’ welfare and contract status, Beck said that she is aware of the discussions that RUPA is having behind the scenes with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in order to implement a pregnancy policy for all players that addresses job security and also peace of mind.
“The beginning of this year was the first time that two-year deals were offered to some of the girls, so that little bit of extra security might make it a little easier if you wanted to start a family, however there are no policies in place for girls who might fall pregnant while in the full-time program,” she said.
“Gemma (Etheridge) and Shannon (Parry) are both on the RUPA Board of Directors, and I know through them that RUPA are working hard to change that as soon as possible. Most of the squad are pretty young at the moment and not many are necessarily planning a family, however if [the ARU] want to retain players moving forward it’s certainly something that needs to be addressed.”
The Australian squad are well-positioned in first place on the circuit with just the one tournament to go, heading to France for Clermont-Ferrand later this month where Beck will celebrate her birthday on tour!
“Normally the World Series ends a little bit earlier and I spend my birthday at home on my break, so this will be my first birthday away from Sophie,” she said. “It will be exciting to celebrate it with the squad and I’ll get to extend it and celebrate it when I am back and turn it into a birthday week!”
The squad are focused on winning a first ever World Series title, knowing that it is there for the taking, and will be able to recall some players who have missed out recently due to injury.
“We’ve never won a World Series title so we are very hungry for that, and we also know that looking forward to the Olympics we want to be ranked Number One as it makes a huge difference when they’re seeding the draw.
“In terms of our next event, we won’t quite have a full quota for Clermont; we won’t have Gemma Etheridge or Taleena Simon back yet, but Sharni Williams is back in full training, Ellia Green is close and hopefully Evania Pelite as well; most of our squad will be ready and available for selection.”
While Nicole will be away from Sophie for her birthday for the first time, today she gets to celebrate a full Mother’s Day at home for the very first time.
“The past two years we have been flying out to tournaments on Mother’s Day, so this will be my first time at home with her,” Beck said. “We have no training on Sunday but we finish a mini pre-season this week so I imagine I am going to be quite tired and sore; it will be a pretty casual day at home, and we might go out for lunch or something.
“It’s going to be lovely to spend it with her and not be rushing off to the airport though!”