As a little girl, Alisha Butchers had the impossible dream of becoming a professional rugby player. Now, that dream has become a reality.
The Wales rugby internationals will be heading into the forthcoming Women’s Six Nations tournament as one of the destined dozen, the 12 players who made history by becoming the country’s first group of female, full-time professional players.
For Butchers, the decision to pursue a rugby career full-time has been made easier thanks to her current employers. Carmarthenshire Council, where she worked as a sports development officer, has granted her 12 month’s unpaid leave.
The chance to fulfil a lifetime ambition and the generosity of her previous employer in keeping her job open, meant it was an offer she could not refuse.
“This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a young girl,” says Butchers.
“When you do something like playing sport, it’s a dream and you have to follow. It’s something you can’t say no to.
“It’s one of those things you’ve just got to do, regardless. Obviously, you’ve got to make a decision with your head screwed on, but you’ve got to follow it at the end of the day.”
So, along with 11 other players – including her partner, double Olympian Jasmine Joyce – 24-year-old Butchers has taken the plunge and the WRU will be hopeful the sole concentration their players are now giving to sport will pay dividends in a World Cup year.
Not that the decision was an easy one, given her equal dedication to her previous role, working in schools and trying to help children to become more active.
“I worked as a young people’s officer on the participation side of the pathway.
“I worked with Key Stage 2 up to 6th Form. I’d mainly be in secondary schools where I’d provide activities for SEN (Special Educational Needs) children, running engagement sessions.
“My role was to focus on trying to get children as active as possible within schools and also a lot of work within the community. We’d work in deprived areas.
“We did the summer of fun kind of stuff, then I’d also link in with primary schools as well, running different initiatives.
“It was a massive decision to leave that, but my employers were really understanding and they’ve even given me a year’s unpaid leave, effectively. I’ve officially left the role, but I have the opportunity to go back in January if need be. I’m really lucky.”
It’s not the first time Butchers has had to make a big call when it came to her job versus her rugby.
“I was a hub officer for Cardiff Blues, in the Blues community team. Then, myself, Jaz and Hannah Jones moved to Australia for a few months to play.
“I left my role as a hub officer and I played in the AON Sevens league. Then we came back and that’s when I got my role with Carmarthenshire Council.”