Time was when rugby players would combine the sport with another in the opposite season. With 15s being based in the winter, many a player would spend their summers on the cricket pitch, some even making the international stage in both.

But when your version of rugby is seven-a-side, which is based in the summer months, what can you do to fill your time during the rest of the year? For Capt Jo Ellett (RE) this means taking to the ice, and the thrills and emotional rush of the bobsleigh track.

Not content with being a red shirt Sevens representative, Capt Ellett also left an impression during summer trials with British Bobsleigh in 2019, so much so that she was selected to train with the national squad and represent Great Britain in Monobob and 2-Woman Bobsleigh before winning the 2020 Army Bobsleigh championships in Winterberg, Germany.

“It’s something I never thought I’d get into,” she says. “But it’s the cliché of watching ‘Cool Runnings’, and as I’m half-Jamaican I just had to have a go, because it’s different. Plus when you go out with the Army you don’t have the latest kit like some teams, so it’s a bit like Cool Runnings. Everyone is so nice, but you do have to be a bit nuts to do it!

“I started doing it around five years ago, doing a novice camp in Austria. You start being shown a Bobsleigh, introduced to the track and then told what to do at each corner. You then sit in a bobsleigh at the damen (lady or lower) start position, being pushed over the edge and off you go, learning to drive.

“It was mental – there are no seatbelts, you’re sitting in a metal tub, and you’re pulling on D-rings to steer and hopefully getting to the bottom without crashing! It was something I’d never experienced before, when you get to the bottom you’re so happy after having been scared at the top, the range of emotions are so massive.”

Images provided by Capt Jo Ellett

Sport has long been a massive part of Capt Ellett’s life, who freely admits to getting “a bit grumpier when I’m not training!” and has represented the Royal Engineers in athletics and football and took up boxing while at Sandhurst.

But rugby is one of her first loves, and this weekend’s Bournemouth Sevens will be another step along the journey which she re-joined in 2019 after a number of years away from the pitch.

Capt Ellett played 15s at Aston University and for Lichfield, but she credits her two years at Welbeck Sixth Form Defence College for giving her the rugby bug, as well as sport as a whole.

“It was totally equal with the sport, regardless of whether you’re experienced or a brand-new novice like I was,” she says. “I come from East London where rugby isn’t much of a thing, it’s all football and everyone learned to kick a ball. I’m larger than a lot of girls my age, so rugby was naturally a better sport for me, plus I’ve got more control over my hands than my feet!

“I tried a lot of sports but committed my time to rugby, and because a lot of people go to Welbeck from a varied background and you may not have experienced those opportunities to try everything and see where you fit in.

“The teaching staff were unbelievable as well, and they’d done it at a high level. My coach at Welbeck had coached at England level so he knew what he was looking for from us.

“Most people I knew at Welbeck have carried on playing, whether on civvie street or in the military.”

She is hard-pressed to highlight one above the other, though.

“All the different sports have brought different things. In my first term at Sandhurst I dropped a lot of weight through the standard training and boxing, and with less weight I became faster.

“And my training for bobsleigh, which is a fast, explosive sport, comes out on the pitch, I’m sure of it, with a fast burst to get me from A to B very quickly. It also means I’m used to running fast in a straight line though!”

Image © Alligin Photography, Scrumpix

Capt Ellett had re-joined the Army Sevens set-up just before the 2019 Munich Sevens, but all of the sport came to a crashing halt the following March.

“It was extremely difficult,” she recalls. “I was out in Germany in March 2020 and in France before that. We saw the developments of Covid around the world, but thought that it wouldn’t affect us, keeping ourselves to ourselves between training and the hotel. But then we got to Germany and people were getting tested in the street and we knew it was coming closer. My flight back from Germany ended up being the last flight back to the UK.

“I got back into work the next day and straight into planning for training within the Royal Engineers. We had around 500 trainees, plus 500 civilian staff and military staff as well, needing to know how we could manage them and training at the same time in a safe environment. It was my job to safely disperse them, then bring them back, and continue training safely throughout the pandemic.

“In hindsight I think I had Covid as well at the start. When I got back from Germany I had no taste or smell and felt pretty rubbish for a month or so. But as you do, you crack on, because those weren’t recognised as symptoms at the time.”

And now as a Captain and an experienced leader she is a keen advocate of using sport and exercise to improve both mental and physical health.

“You can see the benefits in other people as well as yourself,” Capt Ellett says. “The minute you’re back around other people who are like-minded everyone seems happier. You could see it even in things like WhatsApp groups, which were quieter. When you’re on your own it’s harder to train in the same way.

“I was lucky enough that my PTI helped me out with gym kit, with a barbell, 100kgs of weights and a mat, all in my little car, and that was basically how I trained through most of Covid. Within work I helped develop a Crossfit box on the parade square, because I so keen for everyone to be training when they got back to work, for their mental as well as their physical health. People were allowed to sign out five pieces of kit and then train on the parade square, which then created a nice safe environment.

“It is really important and for me, without sport or fitness I’m not the same person. Everyone needs to find their niche, whether it’s first thing in the morning, lunchtime or in the evening, or even just if they’re feeling a bit down at 3 in the afternoon, because if they go for some exercise they come back happier and more productive.”

Image © Alligin Photography, Cat Goryn

The Army Women’s Sevens team heads to the south coast on the back of their first final appearance of the summer at Richmond a fortnight ago. Following a challenging Super Sevens Series where they had come up against tough teams every week, the final at Richmond went into sudden death extra time against Ramblin’ Jesters, with the Army team pipped at the last.

This weekend is an opportunity to go one better and continue the progress which has been made over the summer.

“Going back two years when I first came into the team it felt very bitty, with people coming from League and Union to play Sevens,” Capt Ellett says. “You didn’t see the Sevens team bonding. Coming back in earlier this month you could see the excellent team connections, with friendship groups, ideas and keenness to learn and develop.

“We saw that at Richmond where we got better and better performances during the day as a team.

“To get to be so close at the end of the game and lose it in golden point extra time was an emotional roller-coaster. But we did so well and hopefully we’ll see more results in Bournemouth this weekend.

“We’ve got a few teams who we played a couple of weeks ago and in the Super Sevens Series, and it’s time to get them back!”

Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks, Header and Featured Images © Alligin Photography, Scrumpix

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