Tuesday, 27 February 2024

Diving into Destiny: The Lizzie Hanlon Interview Chronicles her Journey from Diver to Breakout Star in Women’s Six Nations

Diving into Destiny: The Lizzie Hanlon Interview Chronicles her Journey from Diver to Breakout Star in Women’s Six Nations
Thursday, 01 February 2024 18:36

Diving into Destiny: Lizzie Hanlon's Unconventional Journey from the Pool to the Pitch

When Lizzie Hanlon decided to hang up her diving suit as a teenager, little did she anticipate that her trajectory would lead her to become a rising star in international women's rugby. The spotlight found her through standout performances with Exeter Chiefs in the top tier of women's rugby, making waves throughout the season.

As a formidable presence in the front row for Exeter Chiefs, Hanlon's unexpected inclusion in John Mitchell's Women’s Six Nations training camp underscored the England head coach's determination to shape a formidable squad. The surprise call caught the 22-year-old off guard, waking her from a post-game nap just days after Exeter’s Premiership Women’s Rugby clash with Saracens.

Hanlon, a product of Exeter’s esteemed university system, has emerged as a pivotal figure in Chiefs’ dominant front row. Her journey from a promising teenage diver – ranking among the top 20 in the country for her national age group – to a standout rugby player exemplifies her versatility and resilience.

Reflecting on her unconventional path, Hanlon explains, “I never had rugby on my radar. It was my brother who was good at rugby – my dad used to play it at university – but I was always the gymnast and the diver.” Her decision to step away from diving was prompted by the demands of time and finances, but little did she know that it would set the stage for a remarkable rugby career.

The call to rugby came after missing the thrill of elite competition, prompting her to explore the sport through a taster session at school. Initially starting as a No 8, she later transitioned to the front row after joining Exeter University. Here, her background in diving, marked by years of rigorous conditioning, proved to be a hidden asset. As a hooker, Hanlon found that the flexibility developed in her diving days provided a unique advantage in the scrum.

“The flexibility I developed doing diving has made a massive difference for rugby,” Hanlon notes. “It means, in a scrum, you get strength from slightly weirder positions. I’ve got the flexibility and strength to get and stay low, and I do think it’s helped with injury prevention.”

As she gears up for the Women’s Six Nations, Lizzie Hanlon stands as a testament to the unforeseen paths that life can take, showcasing the incredible synergy between her diving past and her current prowess on the rugby pitch.

Forging Strength: Lizzie Hanlon's Transition from Diving Dynamo to Rugby Revelation

For Lizzie Hanlon, the shift from the graceful world of diving to the gritty realm of rugby brought about a profound transformation in the nature of her strength. Reflecting on the transition, she remarks, “It’s a different type of strength. Diving was more about bodyweight strength. Rugby is more, ‘I need to be stronger than someone else’. I do think the core strength has stayed with me relatively well and has helped a lot.”

Her recent stint with the Red Roses at St George’s Park in Burton was not without its nerves, but Hanlon couldn't help but commend John Mitchell, the architect tasked with steering England's Six Nations title defense. “Everyone seems to really like him,” she notes. “He’s got a great energy and made everyone feel welcome without bombarding them. I would have struggled without the Chiefs girls there – it’s not often you see a lot of new faces that often in a completely new place.”

Hanlon, alongside talents like Maisie Allen, Merryn Doidge, and the dynamic winger Katie Buchanan, emerged through Exeter’s successful university program. Their presence in the Red Roses’ camp reflects the club’s commitment to nurturing homegrown talent, a sentiment echoed by Steve Salvin, Exeter Chiefs’ women’s assistant coach. “Producing our own Red Roses is a big focus for us,” Salvin emphasizes.

Poppy Leitch, Exeter’s captain and head coach of the university's women’s team, played a pivotal role in identifying Hanlon’s potential and extending the invitation to Chiefs training. Hanlon's swift transition from university to contracted player caught the eye of Salvin, who recognized her potential as a tighthead. “When you get a player of Lizzie’s stature, they’re always worth investing in,” Salvin states. “She turned up from university having not played a lot of rugby up until that point – she’d done more diving than rugby – but we’ve always felt she had good international potential.”

Hanlon's journey mirrors the rich tradition of talent crossovers in women's rugby. From Emily Scarratt's shift from collegiate basketball to rugby stardom to Shaunagh Brown's transition from Commonwealth Games hammer thrower to rugby standout, Hanlon adds her name to the list of athletes redefining boundaries. As English rugby explores this newfound gem, Lizzie Hanlon stands on the brink of becoming a Six Nations bolter, showcasing the sport's capacity to uncover hidden talents and forge them into stars.

A Rising Star and the Promise of Renewal

Lizzie Hanlon's journey from the diving board to the rugby pitch encapsulates the essence of adaptability and untapped potential. The shift in strength from the controlled finesse of diving to the assertive power demanded by rugby is emblematic of her resilience and determination.

Her recent experience with the Red Roses, though nerve-racking, showcased not only her individual prowess but also highlighted the positive impact of John Mitchell's leadership on the team. Mitchell's approach, marked by a welcoming energy, has fostered a sense of camaraderie crucial for navigating the challenges of a new environment.

Hanlon's inclusion, alongside fellow talents developed through Exeter's university program, underscores the club's commitment to nurturing local talent and contributing to the growth of the national squad. Steve Salvin's emphasis on producing homegrown Red Roses aligns with a broader vision for sustained success.

In the world of women's rugby, where talent crossovers are not uncommon, Hanlon's story mirrors the transformative journeys of other athletes who have reshaped the landscape of the sport. As England seeks to defend its Six Nations crown, Hanlon stands as a potential bolter, symbolizing the continual renewal and evolution within women's rugby.

Her narrative serves as a testament to the dynamic nature of sporting journeys, proving that hidden gems can emerge from unexpected backgrounds. As the rugby world anticipates the unfolding chapters of Lizzie Hanlon's career, it is evident that her story is not just about personal triumph but also about the promise of renewal and discovery in the realm of women's rugby.

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