Determination and a love of Rugby are what keep Amy Turner going when that little voice in her head starts to ask the question – Why?
So much has been spoken about the youth of the Aussie Sevens Women’s squad that it is easy to forget the experience and wisdom within this team that leads by example every time it runs out onto the park.
Amy Turner has packed a lot of footy into her 32 years and even as the oldest member of the team, with teenagers nipping at her heels for her spot, she still has the passion and desire required to play at the elite level.
Rugby, in one form or another has been intricately woven through Amy Turner’s life from the age of seven.
Coming from the North Island of New Zealand, Amy grew up playing the ‘other’ rugby code in Tokoroa, an area which has a strong league following.
“Where I’m from they have a big rugby league community -- so they have rugby union and league. I grew up playing rugby league -- started when I was 7 years old. I played with the boys in Tokoroa for United Giants and at that time my dad was the coach.”
“I played until I was 12 years old and then dad said I couldn’t play anymore (as) the boys were getting bigger,” she laughed.
Cracking the code
But Turner did not restrict herself to just the one form of footy.
Union is everywhere in New Zealand and, as has become apparent in most rugby playing communities, touch football is also never far away.
So how much rugby can one person play? -- As much as she wants apparently.
“That’s the beauty of being back home in New Zealand, you get to play all different codes: Saturday it would be rugby; Sundays would be rugby league and then if you played rugby during high school (that’s) on Wednesday nights and then touch on the weekends too sometimes.”
After crossing the ditch and settling in Brisbane at 20, Turner did not let her love for the sport -- in all its forms -- fade.
“I played rugby league when I moved to Brisbane and rugby and touch, so I’ve played all three codes at times.”
“I played league for Ipswich Jets and played in the State of Origin games as well. So it was pretty good.”
So that’s league, union and touch but among all those she also found time for sevens.
“I played sevens back home in New Zealand as well, so I played for NZ Maori and I (even) played in Hong Kong -- we played against Australia in the final and we won,” she said.
“So I grew up (also) playing rugby sevens and played during high school (and) we had XVs in high school as well -- so I grew up playing all codes really.”
Keep on truckin’
Turner continued to pursue her love of rugby, eventually scoring an early contract with the Aussie Sevens unit, which was part-time, so she decided to keep working and just juggle her commitments.
Her work life however was anything but simple. She had gone to Mt Isa -- famous as an Australian mining mecca situated in the dry arid region of central north Queensland -- where she drove haul trucks. And yes – they’re the really really big ones!
Not the place you would expect to find a slightly built 165cm Kiwi woman, but there seems to be no challenge Amy Turner won’t take on and driving one of the massive iconic haul trucks is apparently one of them.
Already part of the emerging Aussie team, Turner chose to remain in Mt Isa while the other team members were starting to settle into Sydney life and the new training digs at Narrabeen where the beginnings of the centralised and professional outfit were taking shape with a view to achieving big goals firmly on the agenda.
“I was in Mt Isa so I was flying in and out of Narrabeen when the girls had become professional at the time. I was still working and coming into Narrabeen maybe a week out from a tournament and then training with the girls and then I’d fly back home to Mt Isa after the tournament,” she said.
Despite the contract, earnings were still low so Turner decided to continue working at the mines while juggling the responsibilities of being part of the newly formed national team by committing to a lone training regimen and a lot of travelling.
“It was tough training in Mt Isa by myself, it’s so hot up there and I was working in the mines so I’d be doing shift work. If I did a night shift I’d wake up at two in the afternoon and it’d be 40 degrees and I’d have to go out and do a conditioning session in the heat -- so it was fairly tough but I had to do it,” said Turner.
“I’d get the four days off -- so four on, four off on the roster -- but I’d be training on my days off too, at least two sessions a day because I didn’t want to get left behind,” she added.
With that in mind and with 2016 looming on the horizon Amy Turner made the call to commit to life as a full-time professional rugby player, having noticed the difference the Narrabeen setup was making for her teammates.
“Every time I came back to Sydney the girls were just getting better and better every week, so I didn’t want to get left behind.”
“Money was obviously a big (factor) -- our contracts for rugby aren’t as big as our male counterparts -- but at two years out I decided ‘you know what, it’s not all about the money now. So I’m just going to make the move’ (because) the Olympics is a one off,” she added.
So at the age of 30 she took on a full-time contract and has been loving it ever since saying it’s the best decision she has ever made.
“We get to train in the mornings, we have a two hour break then a gym session in the afternoon -- you can’t really complain about that and you’re doing what you love for a living. It’s the best job in the world to be honest.”
Having traded driving big trucks for balls, weights and punishing conditioning sessions, Turner admitted there are days when she has questioned what she is doing to her 32 year old body.
“The training is definitely harder. Sometimes when I’m running -- we’ll do a conditioning session in which we’ll run for 15 seconds and then have 15 seconds off -- and within the 15 seconds off you’re having the biggest mind games in your head and thinking ‘what are you still doing running with these girls. You’re 32 years old now you don’t have to keep doing this‘. So I have these mind games throughout the whole conditioning session and then after the actual session is finished and you’ve got ice baths and (you’ve) calmed down and you say ‘okay I’ve finished’, it’s a sense of relief and you feel a bit of accomplishment at the same time,” she laughed.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding with Turner being a key senior member of this very talented Australian team -- both for her football prowess and as a mentor, advisor and advocate for the younger, inexperienced players who arrive on the scene excited, fresh-faced and raring to go.
“I put myself out there and I’m happy for any of them to come up to me if they need any help or if I see that they’re struggling I’m happy to go help them. I guess in our team I’m pretty straight up and so I speak up for some of the girls that are not so confident,” she said.
Turner is conscious of the fact she must work hard to retain her place and that no selection is ever guaranteed but this is what drives her as playing rugby is what she loves.
“I would just love to keep playing rugby but I think my partner would say something else so I’m going to see how I go, see how the body holds up after the World Series and if I’m selected for the Olympics then we’ll see how we go after that. If everything’s all feeling well then we’ll go from there. I would love to keep playing but these girls are keeping me on my toes, so we’ll see. You never say No!” she said with a laugh.
Philosophical about her future and realistic about her age and her body with the physical and mental commitment needed to keep performing at the elite level she is content to take each challenge as it comes.
France is next week and the inevitable claiming of the World Series Championship, if not also the final tournament title in Clermont-Ferrand, followed by seven to eight weeks of hard work towards Rio and the big stage that is uniquely the Olympics.
“There’s so much going on but I guess I’ll just reassess after France and after the Olympics, if I’m selected, and see where we go from there,” she said.
Turner admits that the closeness of the team is a key ingredient to their success on the field but has also created a family environment off the field. This plus she enjoys the added bonus of some world travel which has made for some fun times on tour.
Turner has managed to chalk up significant achievements at the top end of footy in all the codes. But she admits to being tempted by some big prizes in the offing over the next two years.
“I’d go to the World Cup (2017 XVs) – absolutely. I’d love to play in a World Cup. I’ve played in a League World Cup, a Touch World Cup and a Rugby Sevens World Cup so I’d love to go to a XVs World Cup. I would (also) love to go to the Commonwealth Games. To say you’ve been to an Olympics and a Commonwealth Games -- that would just be the ultimate,” she said.
But before thinking too far ahead, the first hurdle is in France next week where the book will be closed on the 2015/2016 World Series and the Australian Women will be looking to claim the prize that has been the sole property of their Kiwi rivals for the past three seasons, since its debut in 2012/2013 – and Amy Turner will be there adding this piece of history to her already impressive resume.