Most retired rugby players struggle to replace the adrenaline buzz that you get from playing on a weekend.
But very few would go to the extremes that former Wales international Rebecca Rowe is doing to fill the void.
Rowe and a group of fellow intrepid female firefighters are currently training for a daring expedition that will see them ski coast-to-coast across Antarctica in November 2023.
Together, the Antarctic Fire Angels will cover 1,900kms, pulling 85kg supply sledges in temperatures as low as -50 and in wind speeds of over 60mph.
The motivation is not only personal but to also raise money for their chosen charities, including the Harlequins Foundation.
Rowe was playing for Harlequins when a serious knee injury forced her to retire shortly after Rugby World Cup 2017 and has always been supportive of the charity.
“When I played for Quins, I used to do talks for them and go into schools and help out with training camps so I knew the charity well before the expedition came about,” she said.
“When we were looking at charities I told the girls what the Foundation was about and it was a no-brainer for us to choose them really because their two main goals really are to inspire and promote girls and women into an active healthy lifestyle, and to try and make rugby accessible for girls and have a really good pathway through to the senior team if that’s what they want.
“We are trying to inspire women and girls through the expedition, to show that if you want something try and go out and get it, and that nothing is out of reach.
“Not only that, they have a big push on mental health. That’s another thing our expedition is about, to talk about things and it’s okay to not be okay.
“Everything the charity stands for is what we are trying to promote.”
Filling the void
When World Rugby spoke to Rowe, she was off-duty from her role as a firefighter at Paddington, London, having just returned from a weekend of crevasse rescue training.
No hole is seemingly too deep for Rowe, a former World Championship rower, who loves to push herself to the limits.
“After rugby, I had a bit of a void in my life.,” she admitted.
“I am in the fire brigade which is a challenge in itself and you get an adrenaline buzz every time the bells go, don’t get me wrong, but who gets an opportunity to be in a team that transverses Antarctica?
“COVID put a break on our expedition-specific training but it is now full steam ahead.
“We went to Sweden a few weeks ago, we’re off to Norway in January and then Sweden again in March to do more cold weather-specific stuff.
“I love a challenge, I really thrive on pushing myself and seeing where I can go with things.”
In the blood
Rowe may have swum for Wales as a teenager, been a world record holder and double world surf life-saving champion just out of her teens and rowed for Great Britain alongside famous Olympians like Kath Grainger, but rugby is her true sporting love and she hopes more girls will get the chance to play.
“Growing up in Wales rugby was in your blood kind of thing, but I never got an opportunity to play it when I was younger – only against the boys in the playground at school (where Gavin Henson was the year below),” she said.
“So I didn’t actually take the game up until I was 29 when I moved to London. I wished I had started it earlier not just because it is such a brilliant game, and I love playing it, but just because of everything it encompasses – the family feeling you get at a rugby club, the lifelong friends that you make and the camaraderie you get between all the other teams.
“I have competed in lots of different sports over the years and rugby is one of the sports where you can play a team and be absolute arch-enemies on the pitch but, once the game is over, you are hugging and shaking hands after the game and chatting about it, and that’s at every level.”
Rowe started at London Welsh, where she won the first of her 19 Wales caps, then had a season at Richmond before joining Harlequins.
“To get into the Welsh team was a huge bonus for me and a surprise as it wasn’t something I had thought about doing previously,” said the 40-year-old.
“Every day I was in that team playing and training with the squad and being able to tell people I was a Welsh rugby player was just amazing, almost as if in a dream. I absolutely loved every second of it.
“Playing in the World Cup was just a great experience and to play against teams like New Zealand and Canada, in the women’s game you don’t get to play against teams like that very often so it was just an awesome experience.”