The Rugby Player / Teacher

“I have come full circle, I am teaching here now just down the road from where I grew up in Leeds, working with kids who are just like me”

I met Danika Leeds Rhino’s rugby player and a teacher again during lockdown. I remembered photographing her for the LovofLeeds project in 2019, so I knew how passionate she was about Leeds and particularly the Rhinos.

Being a teacher during lockdown was a challenge no doubt but even more so when you are working with vulnerable children as Danika does. As well as navigating all of the constantly changing Covid rules at school, managing the lockdowns, and all the on line learning, they also had the welfare of the kids to think about at home too. Some of the children didn’t have electronic devices, and I remember one story that Danika told me that struck a chord as I was home schooling my own children too. Danika and her team were delivering care packages to some of the children during lockdown, and one grateful single father with a daughter tentatively stopped her before she left his doorstep. He asked her if she knew where he could get anything for his daughter as she had started her period, and as a man, and because of lockdown he didn’t know what to do. Danika told me she bought him the relevant supplies, because he needed the support and so did his daughter. It really highlighted the fact that school is not just about what happens at school, but the support is needed at home too, especially with vulnerable children.

When Danika talks about her life with Leeds Rhino’s she beams, and there is literally an inner glow that comes to her face as she talks about her rugby career with them. Our last shoot captured this passion in one go I feel. It was the Women’s Super League Grand Final at Headingly in front of a home crowd.

Danika says “ Playing in front of over 4000 fans was a massive thing for us all last Sunday. We didn’t get the win we wanted but it was about more than that. To be playing in front of such a huge crowd was a big win for the women’s game, and I was part of that, which I am so proud of. Putting that shirt on means the world to me. The idea of having to maybe retire soon is something I am trying not to think about because I love the game and the team so much. The team is the family I never had, so to leave them will be a massive thing. Rugby League saved my life in 2015, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, so this is much more than just a game to me”

I sensed a pain in how Danika was talking about the transition she may have to now make in her life but she says “ It has been a hell of a few months, but we’ve got through it. I love my day job, there is so much more to do there now the kids are back, and I love my rugby so I will find a way to stay involved if that’s the path I choose. Covid has had an impact upon us all, and for me, well I just want to make choices for me now”

Danika just recently announced her retirement.