abi 4England Women Sevens Captain and now RBN contributor Abi Chamberlain tells the RBN about her unusual journey to international sport and why rugby and the Rio Olympic Games mean so much to her.

Born in Kingston Upon Thames, I am an English rugby player who, alongside my team mates, has qualified Team Great Britain for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where Rugby Sevens will make its Olympic début.

Despite winning nine England caps in the 15-a-side game, I have focused my rugby career on the 7-a-side version, wining 25 caps for England over the past 4 years.

My commitment to and passion for the sport was rewarded last January with the England 7s captaincy and in September I was honoured to become the first ever player to captain a professional English women’s rugby squad.  It was a proud milestone for me, especially given how late I came to the sport.

My parents separated when I was just three and my mother, a single parent with two young, energetic children, found solace in local sports opportunities for her children.

It was immediately evident how passionate I was for sport and, thankfully, growing up with an older brother meant opportunities for competition were plentiful.

I revelled in the opportunity to work hard, to out think opponents and to solve the puzzle that presented itself when people were more skilful than me.

Through my childhood I would compete at county level in football and Basketball, in addition to competing at the London Youth games from 1996 to 2000 (an incredible platform for young aspiring athletes).

My sporting journey hit a bit of a speed bump when, aged fifteen, I was permanently excluded from school.  I had not yet learned how to turn the values I adored in sport into values that would make me successful in the classroom.

My competitiveness drove me to speed through tasks to be the first to complete them and the impending boredom that followed led me to distract class-mates and misbehave.  I would constantly question teachers, seeking a deeper understanding of what I was doing, hating the idea of ‘doing it for the sake of it’.

Despite it being a setback, I attended university, just a year later than most.  That period of my life taught me a great deal about myself and the self-awareness I gained was to be a huge factor in me achieving the success in education I had been told I was capable of and, eventually, success in rugby.

It was at university that I would get my first experience of rugby.  Still opting for the more familiar basketball, I would occasionally turn up to the training field and try my hand.

Slowly rugby began to capture my attention.  It comprised elements of football and basketball, but with a mental edge I hadn’t ever experienced.  It was a game of chess compared to the other sports I had known and I found it fascinating.

The thing I had grown to adore about basketball was the physical demands it made.  I absolutely loved end-to-end basketball; no breaks; just survival of the fittest.  I was never the best player on court, but I was the one working the hardest and I would always be the last one running.

Rugby was a different challenge.  I had to be willing to let people hit me and then hit them back harder.  What rugby hadn’t yet replaced was that feeling of pushing myself to the absolute physical limit.

We worked as a unit and that is a form of load sharing, with high intensity bursts by the backs followed by slower-paced methodical forwards work.  I adored that experience playing the 15-a-side game played at a high tempo, but it wasn’t until I experienced 7s that I was truly sold.

That moment I crawled off a pitch after just 14 minutes of rugby changed everything.

In 7s you are entirely accountable; there is nowhere to hide and no one to blame.  You don’t simply work hard because you want to; you work hard because you have to.  If you knock off, someone else has to pick up the slack.

With that level of accountability can come great disappointment, but also the kind of recognition and a feeling of achievement that is unfathomable until it’s experienced.

You never know how far you can push yourself until you push yourself to your limits, when your lungs feel like they’re bleeding, you can’t get enough oxygen in to stay conscious let alone run, you are only assuming your legs are still attached as you haven’t felt them for the past 8 minutes and you dare not look down to check.

When you are there and you work out how to ignore the pain and you run and you tackle and you do whatever you have to do to have your team’s back, the feeling of accomplishment is incredible.

I became addicted to that feeling and the bond it instantly created with those few people who were willing and capable to put themselves through it.

In my final year of university my focus shifted from the Students’ Union to my future.  The library seemed to be my second home and my only reprieve from a computer screen was training.

As I trained more, I got better and I earned the respect of the senior players at my club.  Then, one day in the summer of 2009, just as I had completed my degree, I received a phone call from the England Head Coach.  I was going to represent England at the European 7s Championships.

That was my first tournament cap and my first experience of international sport.  It was to be what I would base my world around.

The goal is now an Olympic one and, more than ever, my world is focused upon one single outcome: Flying home from Rio in August 2016 having made Great Britain proud.

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