Jen Palmer is about to experience the proudest moment of her Touch (Rugby) career so far: Captaining the England Senior Women’s team in Australia at the Touch World Cup 2015. This moment comes not from playing Touch her entire life, but after trying it for the first time in 2008 at a corporate mixed-sex Touch competition where she went along to make up the numbers. Jen gave it a go, along with a couple more colleagues. They didn’t have a clue about the rules, making it hard work for the referees, but they all really enjoyed themselves! Jen enrolled in the local mixed touch league in Bristol – and never looked back. By 2010 she was playing at the European Championships, right here in Bristol.
Jen has always been a passionate athlete so it’s no surprise that whilst taking up touch rugby she also had a forray into triathlon racing. She fully committed to Touch in 2012 when selected to play for the Women’s Open in the European Championships. She then moved to the Senior Women’s team in 2013 and was picked to Captain the side at the 2014 European Championships (which they won!).
Jen is a role model not only because of what she has achieved but also because of the path she took to achieve it – a corporate “friendly” sporting event kick-started her Touch career. It shows that you never know where one action, however small, may lead.
Q. What was your first experience of sport? How did that develop to where you are now?
As a child I had a lot of energy, I used to climb/jump over things and spent a lot of time upside-down, so my Mum took me to Bristol School of Gymnastics when I was about 6-7 years old to try and rid me of some of that energy! I competed at gymnastics until I was about 10 years old when I started over-thinking it all and decided it was a bit dangerous! I carried on trampolining well into my teens. I think gymnastics is a great background to have for all other sports, training your strength, flexibility and co-ordination like nothing else!
I absolutely loved sport at school, I took part in as many sports as I could and always looked forward to PE lessons. I’ve always preferred team sports to individual ones such as athletics, as have always enjoyed working/playing with others in order to achieve the same goal. My favourite sports at school were hockey, rounders, football and basketball, all of which I played competitively for the school team. I played basketball for the only Bristol Women’s team at the time, there weren’t enough of us to train separately so we joined in with the boy’s training.
I didn’t play sport at University, something that I regret a bit. But took hockey up again once I was back in Bristol by joining Westberries hockey club, to get back my fitness, and reminded me how much I love team sports.
I started playing touch (rugby) relatively late, at the age of 24-25, in 2008, first by taking part in a corporate tournament without having a clue how to play or what the rules were! Despite this I loved it, and one of the great and unique things about touch is that it can be played mixed Men and Women, playing together on a level playing field. I found the local Bristol Touch league and joined a team, and was encouraged to attend the England trials that same year. I went along for the coaching, without any expectations to get selected, but to my surprise the selectors saw some potential in me and I took part in my first international tournament in 2009. I started out in the England Mixed team, and moved across to England Women’s in 2012. I Captained the Senior Women’s team for the first time at the European Championships last year (that we won!) and am very proud to be Captaining again this year for the Touch World Cup in Coffs Harbour, Australia, this April.
One of my earliest sporting memories is watching the 1992 Olympics. At the time I recorded all the Women’s gymnastics and watched them over and over again. I remember being a big fan of the American gymnasts Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller. The dedication required to be a gymnast at that level just seems to be greater than any other sport, and I have a huge admiration for those athletes.
As I got older, Jonny Wilkinson. Such a perfectionist, the work, dedication and hours he had put in at training was evident when he played big games.
But my main sporting role models have been my various coaches through the years.
Q. Was there ever a time when you almost gave up and, if so, what made you keep going?
I gave up sport completely at University, favouring nights out and drinking! But once I started working full-time I wanted to get back fitness, and I find team sports are a much more fun way of getting fit than just running by yourself!
Q. How would you motivate someone to get active and engaged in sport?
I would always encourage team sports as a way to get active. It’s not just about the running, it’s also social and a great way to meet people. Whatever your fitness/skill level there is a sport and a team out there for you. Touch rugby is extremely inclusive with opportunities to play at an entirely social level, as well as club level, right up to National and International. It is also unique in that the social and club level is all played mixed Men and Women on the same pitch. All you need is a ball, and you’ll find yourself running around and having fun, and before you know it you’re getting fitter and quicker without even realising!
Touch is a big sport in Australia and New Zealand, they play at school in much the same way we play football here. Their YouTube channels get tens of thousands of hits, sometimes even getting past the 100k mark. Our European touch videos rarely get to 1000 views, but this is certainly on the increase as the sport grows!
I have played in small stadiums, such as our European Championship Final against France last year. It’s mainly filled with players’ friends and family (and other touch players) but it still feels pretty special to have an audience watching: it definitely gives me more energy to keep giving it my all when I’m feeling tired at the end of a long tournament!
Please support Jen and the England Senior Women’s team as they head to Australia for the Touch World Cup 2015 by following their progress on Facebook and liking their page.
If you’re interested in trying out Touch, then put 21 March in your diary. There is a Women’s Touch tournament in Chippenham – particularly suited to those new to Women’s touch. While it may be too late to join the tournament, it’s not too late to go along and watch. It’s a great opportunity to find out more about Touch and maybe even give it a try. To find out more, email Jen Palmer: firstname.lastname@example.org.