Maggie ‘The Machine’ Alphonsi has earned the nickname - and if you have ever seen her play you will have witnessed a huge work rate and the bone crunching noise of her tackles. This is an athlete at the top of her game who has respect from her peers the world over.
It isn’t only for her Rugby skills that we, as a magazine have nominated her as our ‘outstanding athlete’ for this issue. We regard her as one of the finest flankers in the world - but we also want to recognise Maggie’s inner strength and her passion
and desire to help both the disadvantaged and the next generation of athletes. Maggie has set her sights high all her life and not accepted any adversity thrown at her throughout her life and has achieved so, so much - and it is for these reasons we have added her to this year’s shortlist.
Margaret Alphonsi was born in Lewisham, London, in a tough council estate and a withclub foot. Having been operated on at an early age and had her foot corrected, there was no stopping her. She was determined to be different: she wanted to make her mark, to be known - and she formulated a plan: “I wanted people to know my name, it didn’t matter which sport,” Maggie says, reflecting on what drove her to get to where she is now.
Countless serious injuries - including being out for the last two years - has not tempered her energy or focus. Now back playing for England and club again, she is focused on the upcoming World Cup in France this year.
Aside from being one of the best flankers in the world, what makes Maggie the truly remarkable person and athlete that she is? On a personal front I am very privileged to have know Maggie for sometime now and to have watched her play and get back up again after injury.
Being in her company is always a pleasure. She is down to earth, humble and a genuine person - which given her achievements and accolades is even more remarkable. The mark of her character is seen when I spent time with her the day before her MBE was announced and again the day after and it wasn’t until I mentioned it that she acknowledged it and just said “….oh that’s kind of you, thank you”.
Maggie has been awarded an MBE for services to Rugby Union; she has over 60 caps for England, seven successive Six Nations titles, the Sunday Times sportswoman of the year award, the first ever female winner of the Pat Marshall award from the Rugby Union Writers’ Club, the only woman ever to have been asked to be an ambassador for the Rugby World Cup (2015); she was named in the Powerlist 100 of the most influential people of African and African-Caribbean descent in Britain for three years running, countless club wins, being club captain - to name but some of her achievements.
This is a list that shows she has achieved her goal from all those years ago quite conclusively. Maggie is excited about the Rugby Wold Cup in Paris this summer as England joins the world competing for this honour. However, a Rugby World Cup medal is the one thing that has alluded her in her trophy cabinet thus far - and Maggie is looking to right this!
Apart from all of this, we haven’t mentioned her coaching, mentoring or charity roles. How she fits it all in, is something even she wonders about sometimes: “I just do it, I love doing it,” she comments about her schedule.
What Maggie has done is to be one of the pioneers of women’s Rugby: being one of a group of women who at one time only dreamt of the support and coverage that the new crop of players are enjoying. “Young people are very lucky with the opportunities they have now,” she comments. But would she, given her time again, swap place with the younger players? “No, I’m glad I have done it the way I have,” Maggie says after reflecting on the question for a while. She is happy to have been a trailblazer - and happy that it is part of her legacy having been at the forefront of the modern women’s Rugby game.
In a way, Maggie can be summed up by a recent observation of mine at the Six Nations match. As the final whistle went, Maggie walked over to all the fans and kids waiting to speak to the players. It would have been so easy to go in for a shower after a tough match like that but she spent almost 30 minutes talking with them. It’s the self sacrifice, that extra mile with Maggie. Covered in mud she took the time to walk all the way down the side of the pitch, signing things, having photos taken and stopping to talk. She would ask groups of girls, did you enjoy the game? what position do you play? what club do you play for? - talking and encouraging them as they spoke. Such incredible passion for the sport and such humility to talk to them and about them and letting them revel in the attention. She is a true role model, mentor and someone who will leave an incredible legacy when she retires.
As we come to the end of our time, I ask Maggie about looking back at what she has achieved and she says, “I will look back when I retire, otherwise it will overtake me - and I need to focus.’ It is this focus that has made Maggie ‘the Machine’ Alphonsi, the machine, the athlete, woman, friend and person that she is today.