The Black Ferns are New Zealand's senior women's rugby team. Here Black Ferns Kendra Cocksedge, Eloise Blackwell and Ruahei Demant share what Sacrifice means to them in the Black Ferns environment, and offer an insight into the challenges they have overcome to represent New Zealand.
Ask Kendra Cocksedge, Eloise Blackwell and Ruahei Demant what the word sacrifice means to them, and they will offer you an insight into the challenges they have overcome to become Black Ferns.
"I would define sacrifice as… that's a tough one," says Demant, a 10-Test Black Ferns utility back.
"I would define sacrifice as always there. I see it when you turn up at 5:30am in the morning, the girls look tired and the girls are sore, but everyone's there ready to go, ready to train, ready to sacrifice a little bit more time."
Blackwell, a 43-Test Black Ferns lock, echoes her international teammate's sentiments.
"I think, for me, sacrifice is putting things on hold for a goal or something that you want to achieve," she says.
The goal Blackwell is referring to is, of course, the dream of representing Aotearoa in Test rugby; to take on the world while donning the Black Ferns jersey.
Just as the All Blacks do for any male rugby player from New Zealand, the Black Ferns represent the pinnacle of Kiwi rugby for Aotearoa's female rugby players.
Like those who strive to become All Blacks, New Zealand's female players undergo every bit as challenging a journey to achieve their goal of becoming a Black Fern.
Although those who aim and go on to become All Blacks enter an environment that's been professional for over 20 years, the Black Ferns operate in a developing market, and often need to juggle work and family commitments alongside rugby.
New Zealand's leading female players often have to chase their goals as semi-professional or amateur players, but just like the All Blacks they are fuelled by their passion for the game.
Watch! Becoming a Black Fern video series
The Black Ferns explain what it takes to make it to the top of women's rugby in Healthspan Elite's four-part video series.
The balancing act
To reach the Black Ferns requires time and effort.
As a result, hours of training and preparation are commonplace in the weekly schedules of New Zealand's top female players, but just how they fit those hours around their work commitments and social lives is a balancing act.
Working a full-time job outside rugby and finding time for friends and family, especially for those players who are mothers, are just two of the many things that present challenges for female rugby's elite.
Cocksedge has a similar story of the uphill battle she has faced to become the most-capped Black Fern.
"I started as a 19-year-old and, for me, I probably made a lot of choices that probably ended up me neglecting my friends and family," Cocksedge, the 53-Test Black Ferns halfback, says.
"Especially my first three or four years in this side, and I got to the point where it wasn't working for me on the field.
"That's probably one of the hardest things you go through in your career.
"I choose right now to work full-time. I don't necessarily have to, but, some of the other girls coming through in the future, hopefully it ends up being a full-time gig, which I'm really excited about, paving that way for those ones coming in."
A 2017 Women's World Cup winner, Cocksedge also has the distinction of becoming the only woman to win the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year Award as New Zealand's top player in 2018.
Those are only two of numerous accolades and feats the 33-year-old has achieved in her career, but those achievements haven't come without substantial sacrifices.
The same can be said for Blackwell, who works as a full-time teacher in addition to her role as Black Ferns captain.
"Being a rugby player and a full-time employee as a teacher, it's a massive life-balance with trying to find time for my social life, but it's something that all the girls have juggled for as long as I can remember and as long as this team has been together."
Demant adds that she and her teammates rely on the goodwill of their employers in order to play for the Black Ferns.
"We couldn't do what we do without having understanding employers who understand that we may be these people who are at work, but outside of that, we work hard to represent our country," she says.
"For me, sacrifice is putting things on hold for a goal or something that you want to achieve."
Eloise Blackwell, Black Ferns lock
The professionalism of female rugby in New Zealand would go some way to alleviating the stress and concerns shared by the country's leading women's players.
Efforts have been made in recent years to give the Black Ferns more substantial financial support, although Cocksedge believes there is still plenty of room for growth for the women's game.
"Now we're at a point where we're getting semi-professionally paid and I still work full-time, so it's working out, I guess, how to manage that load and it's not necessarily easy," she says.
"I'm lucky enough to be able to do that with my job, but, for other girls, it can be quite challenging."
Nevertheless, Demant is excited about what the future holds for women's rugby in New Zealand.
"With the recent contracting of female players by New Zealand Rugby, I think our women's rugby in New Zealand has become a lot more professional," she says.
"We're acknowledged, I guess, for the time that we sacrifice away from our lives.
"With professionalism comes more resources, more time, players are able to play better rugby. It's simple."
Healthspan Elite is proud to be the Official Sports Nutrition Partner for the Black Ferns as well as the All Blacks. Both teams trust Healthspan Elite to supplement their diets with high-quality nutritional supplements. The range is developed for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who aspire to reach peak performance.