My journey so far...
Health Advisor at Bupa UK
International Footballer and ex Scholarship Athlete
Current: Charlton Athletic Womens FC, Northern Ireland
Former clubs: Tottenham Hotspur Ladies, Loughborough University WFC, Fordham University, Derry FC
Hi Avilla, thanks for stopping by. Can you give us a brief timeline of your career within sport...
I started playing for a local boys team at the age of 8, before joining my first girls team Derry FC. From there I got scouted for trials with the N. Ireland u13 national team, and since then I have represented them at every age group – u13,15,17,19 and I now have 10 senior caps!
I played for Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, after completing my A levels at the age of 18, before gaining entry to Loughborough University where I studied and played for 3 years.
Following this, when I graduated I signed for Tottenham Hotspur Ladies in 2014, and most recently moved to Charlton Athletic this summer whilst continuing to represent N. Ireland, playing in the recent European Qualifying campaign.
How did you first get involved in your sport? And when did the opportunity come to start competing at an elite level?
Growing up there weren’t too many opportunities for girls where I lived to play football, so I started with a boys team at a young age before joining Derry FC as my first girls team. Having played with boys, I always used to stand out at my age group, and got picked up by the national team at 13 years old. I have been playing football, and representing my country ever since.
Representing your country must be a great feeling, but to date, what’s been your greatest achievement in sport?
I’ve had a few great moments, but my best, has to be scoring a double against Georgia in a recent European Qualifier which we won 3-0, and I also received man of the match!
Great stuff. So can you tell us a little about what is it that you are currently doing now?
I have a full time job in the city of London, and as mentioned before, play for Charlton Athletic Ladies, where I train and compete most evenings and weekends. I work for Bupa as a Health Advisor, which is a really interesting role. In short my job involves working with corporate clients and private health care members to deliver health screens. Screening is quite a complexed and comprehensive process involving venepuncture, ECGs, Vo2 max testing as well as testing lung functionality, blood pressure and many more physiological processes.
And how do you manage competing at an elite level, whilst in full time work? And also, how did you manage the balance between elite sport and studying?
My time at Loughborough University was ideal to help me prepare for managing workloads that come with elite sport. With the university’s history of producing elite athletes, they were able to support your lifestyle demands, and educate you about balancing work, education and elite sport. I have taken a lot of what I learnt at the university, to my lifestyle management now, but one of the key things is I understand how to be productive with time. From experience I always had to be more efficient with my time in comparison to the majority of my student peers, who were not athletes.
It’s been more difficult since leaving university. On training days I start work early, at 7.30am so I can finish work at 4.30pm in order to allow time to eat, travel and prepare for training. I am fortunate that I have the flexibility at work to allow me do this, but nevertheless I have to be as productive and efficient with my time and work as possible.
I wouldn’t change it, as I love the lifestyle. But to give an example of a full day for me – I leave the house at around 6.30am and don’t get home often until after 11pm. And most of my annual leave goes to International football games! Which means sunny holidays at the moment are few and far between :/
Having grown up and developed with clubs such as Loughborough University, Spurs and now Charlton, do you think the environment of elite sport has helped you in your professional and personal career so far? And if so, how?
Definitely, without doubt. Playing a team sport has enabled me to develop communication skills that are essential in my job. Things like taking the lead in conversations, being comfortable to delegate, listen and appreciate other people’s views and opinions. You don’t realise how important this is until you step in to a work environment, where often a lot of team members have not had much experience of teamwork.
Also, football has allowed me to travel to so many interesting places, which is something that is often taken for granted. Experiencing different cultures and countries have no doubt helped widen my knowledge and appreciation for diversity.
I also think I owe a lot to elite football for my hard work ethic, being able to work efficiently and balance different tasks, having had to juggle education, football and employment for most of my life – And importantly, working hard in all and not compensating in any. I have accepted that to achieve worthwhile goals, sacrifices have to be made along the way.
Final question!....What advice would you give to athletes who face similar circumstances to you, having graduated and who want to continue/develop their career both within elite sport, and professional work?
I would for sure say you need to be prepared to have a very busy lifestyle, with long days! But you’ve got to have the attitude to enjoy that. It takes getting used to, especially following on from a more laid back student environment and way of life! It’s certainly very challenging, but equally so rewarding.
I’m quite fortunate that I’m in London where it’s quite easy to get to and from work and training with lots of public transport. If I played for a team further from work this might be a bigger issue. So this might be something you need to think about in advance. But if you want something, you will always be able to find a way, and there’s always people who will support you.
As you are going to be giving up a lot of your already limited free time, I think it’s important to find a club that you can enjoy your sport at. I’ve been lucky enough to really enjoy my spells at both Tottenham and Charlton here in London whilst working which makes early mornings and late evenings all worthwhile :)