I have known Hannah for a few years now, first with the Black Ferns (New Zealand’s 15’s Rugby squad) and as now manager of the New Zealand Women’s 7’s Rugby team. She has always exemplified to me the essence of what the magazine is looking for in an Unsung Hero. So it is fitting that in recognition of her retiring from active involvement in International rugby at the end of this season that we acknowledge Hannah and all she has done.
Like all unsung heroes Hannah has worked relentlessly behind the scenes of women’s sport to improve it, provide the best with the minimal resources given to them and to support the women as they travel around the world and are away from family and friends.
Having spent 10 years playing for New Zealand, winning 2 World Cups, a 7’s Final and more than 25 caps, Hannah was part of the pioneering generation that has given the current athletes the foundations they have and enjoy now. No one is better placed to understand athletes than the ones who have trod the path before them and who have been at the forefront of the new age.
Hannah’s ability to understand the players and be there for them has been key to the development of the atmosphere in the squad. I have been privileged on numerous occasions to be allowed to go behind the scenes and observe and spend time with her and the team without the usual media restrictions. In observing Hannah, she provides calm to the team and a genuine sense of care for the players as individuals. The way she conducts herself with players one to one, both on the field and off the field, is excellent and you can see how well the players respond to her. There is an ‘aura’ about her that puts people at ease and that’s priceless.
Hannah is the first one up in the morning sorting logistics and the last one to bed as she sorts details for the next day. Given that the team has on average a 20 hour flight to any of the World Series competitions she has a lot to deal with and yet it is all done with such a laid back attitude you wouldn’t know if you looked at her what her role was and the gargantuan amount of work she does.
Culture, logistics, players, player welfare, support staff, match scheduling, media scheduling, hotels, food, injuries, hospitals - the list of things she does in any given day is endless and it is all done with a smile on her face. With a young family at home as well, Hannah has sacrificed so much for so long and never complained. She loves what she is doing and wouldn’t have changed a moment in all she has done, as she said when we chatted recently in Amsterdam. “Rugby has given me so much and to give something back to the young coming through is great. I enjoyed my time and wouldn’t change one thing.”
For Hannah Rugby is in her DNA, it’s what has enabled her to travel the world, win a lot of silverware, meet people and it has given her a career - and as part of that vanguard of female athletes who have brought in a new era, Hannah has given of herself for the love of the game, her country and to ensure the next generation takes the new opportunities with both hands and with the right attitude. Hannah has always had time for me despite the pressures of her various roles and made me feel welcome and a part of the family, and I am grateful for all her time and support. She is the sort of Unsung hero that makes the good great and so despite having to say goodbye to her as she resigns, I look forward with interest to see how her impact and legacy continues and hope that she will in some way still be around in the future, for the sake of Rugby.
Hannah is indeed a legendary Unsung Hero.