Rising To The Challenge: Deborah Fleming

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We get to know Deborah Fleming our RPA Player Representative for England Women's 7s, to hear of her ambitions for the role, her career to date, and how her parents inspired her to make the most of every opportunity.  

Congratulations on being elected for 2018/19, can you describe your initial reaction to the appointment?

I was really shocked by the result but immediately I felt excited and honoured to be voted in by my teammates. It’s great knowing they trust me in the role and back me to represent them to the best of my ability.

Why did you want to become an RPA Player Representative?

I am extremely passionate about my teammates and their interests. I also want the women’s game to be represented at the highest level of the sport and to have our voices heard loud and clear. To be in a position where I can have a positive effect on our sport and help those players coming into our game at a young age, is something I’m really looking forward to. I want to help the RPA and Restart Rugby in any way I can, and through this role I have the perfect opportunity to maximise the voice of my teammates and protect their welfare.

What attributes and skills do you believe you can bring to the role?

I am an incredibly honest person and very direct. I feel they are skills which are sometimes lacking in an individual and it’s often easy to take the simple route through a situation rather than tackling the issue head on. I am a confident person and I enjoy being a strong leader and making the tough decisions. I am looking forward to encouraging my teammates to speak up about any issues they may have. We have seven new players in the 7s squad this season and I want to be there as someone they can talk to. I want to help upskill them away from rugby, by working with our Personal Development Manager Kim Johnson-Pool, to encourage them to undertake education or work experience, and start preparing for life after from rugby.

What aspect of the role are you most looking forward to?

The opportunity to experience the RPA Players’ Board really excites and motivates me. I am looking forward to meeting the other Player Representatives, getting to know how they operate and understanding the challenges they face within their squads. It will be a huge learning opportunity for me, and something which will benefit my career greatly.

With the 15s squad being rewarded with full-time professional contracts, can you explain how important this step is for the game?

I think it’s an amazing step. Our sport has been moving in the right direction incredibly well over the last few years and this is another hugely important step for us all. I only started playing the game six years ago and at that time you couldn’t be contracted for 7s, let only 15s. Therefore, to have the opportunity to become a full-time pro is massive for English rugby. If we want to have the world’s best women’s programme, you must put some money behind it and invest in our players and coaches. This result is a credit to everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this, and we must thank the RPA and our players involved for making this possible.

You made your 7s debut in 2016, what do you enjoy most about the world series?

I love the thrill, excitement and atmosphere of the circuit, however at the same time you must have a good relationship with pain, because it is tough. For me, that’s the component that drives me to continue to improve my game. I love the freedom you have on the 7s pitch. That was one of the main draws for me when I made the switch from athletics and netball to rugby. If you want to run hard at someone you can, but at the same time if you want to evade them or break through a gap in the line with speed, you can do that too.    

What has been your biggest highlight so far?

The Commonwealth Games was awesome. We picked up the bronze medal and it was great reward for all our hard work and preparation. The whole experience of the Games was mega, mainly because we were in Australia and they are so far ahead in terms of their development of women’s sport. It’s very rare that we get to play in a stadium which is sold out, and in Australia that’s the opportunity we were given. The stadium was packed full and the atmosphere was electric.

Away from rugby, you completed a degree at the University of Bath, can you touch on this?

Yes, I graduated in 2012 with a degree in Sport and Social Sciences. I then went on and completed a post-graduate programme and worked in business management. I loved the degree, and if it wasn’t for my studying, I wouldn’t have made the switch to rugby 7s. My time at Bath was an important stage in my personal development and gave me a great new way of thinking. It developed my personal skills and improved my life as an athlete. It was hard and challenging at times but that’s what made it important because it helped to prepare me for my career as a professional athlete.

Your Dad Charles was your athletics coach growing up. Can you describe the influence he has had on your rugby career?

I was very fortunate to do athletics as a kid and my Dad was a great coach and someone who really inspired me. We spent a lot of time running on the sand dunes, and doing tyre runs up hills with Dad driving alongside me in the car and encouraging me step by step. Both my parents have played a huge part in my career to date, they instilled great values and a huge work ethic in me. I have always made sure I give everything my absolute all, and if then something goes wrong I know deep down I did my very best.