Celebrating Sevenoaks’ women in sport!

International Women’s Day takes place on March 8th and to celebrate the occasion we are highlighting a few of the sporting women in the Sevenoaks District, past and present. Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing Features Editor, Lorraine Rowley, caught up with Susie Rowe, a former England cricketer who is now Director of Cricket at Radnor House and a member of the ladies 1st team squad at Sevenoaks Hockey Club.

At what age did you start your sport?
“I started playing sport from an early age in the back garden with my older brother and my parents would play catch with me for hours on end. It was part of growing up, and part of having a sporty older brother who wanted someone to play with.

“When I was primary school age I was playing football for Millwall, tennis at Langley Park tennis club, hockey at Bromley Hockey Club, and cricket for Lewisham district boys.”

What motivated you to become a sportsperson?
“The early influences of my family and it’s how I enjoyed spending my time. I was always playing football and cricket with my brother in the back garden, and playing football with the boys at break time in primary school. I was very fortunate that my parents were very supportive in giving me opportunities to play sport outside of school which I thrived on.”

What challenges did you come across in getting to where you are at today?
“I played junior international hockey for England at U16 and U18 level but then went to the University of Maryland on a hockey scholarship in the United States, and from then on I didn’t get picked for any further England international hockey again as England Hockey decided they wouldn’t select me after I had been away in the US and this became their selection policy from then on. I felt like the guinea pig as I was one of the first England junior players to go to the US for university, who was subsequently never selected for England again. I feel I was treated very unfairly as in my opinion I was good enough and was devastated as my goal was always to play hockey in the Olympics.

“My biggest challenge then came when I was selected to play cricket for England, and I was told by the ECB that I wasn’t allowed to play hockey any more. At that time I was playing National League hockey in the Premier League for Canterbury and was at the top of my game, I was devastated.

“Playing cricket for England was only semi-professional back then and we were paid peanuts in comparison to today. When I was told I could no longer play hockey, I then stopped enjoying cricket, as I didn’t have that release through hockey which was a sport I enjoyed so much and had played for the last 13 years and was part of my DNA.

“I was torn, as I wanted to play international cricket but I didn’t want to give up hockey. I couldn’t step near a hockey pitch during that time as it would make me so upset. I remember going to watch my sister play hockey for Bromley and Beckenham and just crying behind the fence because I wanted to play so badly and missed hockey so much.

“In the end it got too much, and I stepped away from cricket altogether in 2015 as I was so unhappy and I went back to playing hockey again.”

Can you tell us about playing for the England Women’s Cricket team and what it meant to you?
“I felt very fortunate to be picked for England, and it wasn’t something I was aiming for. I actually wanted to play hockey in the Olympics, but I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to play international sport.

“Playing cricket for England was incredible and gave me many amazing experiences including travelling to countries I wouldn’t ever have been to otherwise.

“As I mentioned above I fell out of love with cricket during that time as I wasn’t allowed to play hockey, so I never really became the best cricketer I could have been as a result.”

How did you feel when you made the decision to retire from Cricket in 2021?
“I felt exhausted, and like it was time to slow down so I knew I was ready to retire. It was just so challenging to try and compete with full time professional cricketers when I had a very hectic full time teaching job, and was playing National League hockey too.

“I had been away from cricket for five years before coming back to the game in 2020 so the game had moved on a lot since then and I felt like I just wasn’t good enough any more to compete with full time professional cricketers, and I just didn’t have the time or energy to commit to be able to get better. I’m now very content with focusing on my teaching and coaching career, while playing hockey for as long as I have the energy to do so.”

What are your strengths as both an athlete and a person?
“My physical attributes have always stood me in good stead since a young age, and was definitely what got me into the England cricket team and has also helped me still be able to compete on a national level even now in my mid-thirties. Now that I am older my game understanding is also a strength and the fact that I don’t mind a bit of pressure, and seem to be able to thrive on the big occasions.”

What other sports do you love other than the ones in which you have already become a professional?
“Hockey and cricket keep me busy enough, and I don’t really have time for any other sports. I used to play football and tennis as a kid but I don’t play or follow them anymore.”

Do you always eat healthy food, what kind of diet do you prefer?
“I always try to eat a nutritious home cooked meal. Dinner will always involve cooking something from scratch involving a good balance of carbs, meat, and vegetables. My favourite meals to cook are a curry or a pasta dish. I also love whole milk, and have a glass every evening with a chocolate digestive!”

Do you think the life of an athlete is tough compared to other professionals?
“The life of an athlete is something which requires lots of mental toughness and energy to put into training and performing but that is true of so many other careers. So no, the life of an athlete is no different to the life of other professionals.”

You are Director of Cricket at Radnor House, what’s the best thing about your job?
“The best thing is seeing children enjoy playing sport and being active, while seeing them progress and get better at something. There isn’t a more rewarding feeling than introducing a child to a hockey stick or a cricket bat for the first time and seeing their skills develop and know that you have helped them develop an enjoyment and a talent for that sport.”

As the Lead Girls Coach at Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club, what is your [and the clubs] main objectives?
“To grow the girls section to have a team in every age group and also a women’s hardball team, I don’t think we are too far away from that and it’s a really exciting time for the club.

“We have had lots of new enquiries about membership over the winter and are looking forward to fielding an U9, U11, U13, U15 team this year. We are also really keen to start both a women’s softball and hardball cricket team, so if anyone is interested please do get in touch.”

You also currently play for Sevenoaks Hockey Club Ladies 1st team. Is there anything you can’t do?
“I tried playing golf last summer, but I was pretty terrible, unfortunately a hockey swing doesn’t transfer into a golf swing as much as I would have liked. But I enjoyed the opportunity to be outside in the fresh air playing a sport that doesn’t require as much energy as hockey and cricket so…maybe it’s one for retirement!”

Can you give us three reasons you like being part of a team sport?
“I have learnt so many important life skills through team sport that you just don’t learn if you don’t play team sport. Playing a team sport definitely makes you more considerate of others’ thoughts and feelings, and it teaches you how to be a good team player. Plus there’s nothing better than working hard as a team towards a common goal, whether you win or lose, you win together and you lose together.”

How do your teammates make practice fun?
“In the Sevenoaks 1st XI, we practice hard but we don’t take ourselves too seriously and have many laughs and jokes along the way. A healthy balance of hard work and dry humour seem to keep us motivated and enjoying each other’s company.”

What advice do you have for young people who want to have a career in sports?
“Definitely to play as many sports as possible at a young age and not to specialise too early. Also not to train too much in one sport that you end up lacking the energy and drive to make that practice worthwhile. The key thing is for sport to be fun at a young age. If it’s fun, then those young people will keep playing when they are older. If it’s not fun, they will find something else to do.”

Lizzy Yarnold OBE
Lizzy is a retired Double Olympic Skeleton Champion who grew up in West Kingsdown and went to St. Michael’s School in Otford.

She joined the Great Britain national squad in 2010, and with consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2014 and 2018, she is the most successful British Winter Olympian and the most successful Olympic skeleton athlete of all time from any nation around the world.

Lizzy was then selected to be one of the two women skeleton drivers representing Team GB at the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018 and went on to become the first person to defend an Olympic gold in Skeleton and the first British athlete to defend a Winter Olympic title. She was also the flag bearer for Great Britain at the Pyeongchang opening ceremony.

Eva Okaro
15-year old Eva attends Sevenoaks School and is a member of Sevenoaks Swimming Club. She made her debut at the English Nationals in 2018 at the age of 11 in the 12/13 age group and followed by smashing her own personal best to take gold and the British title in the 50m butterfly at the British Summer Nationals in 2019.

Eva competed at the European Junior Swimming Championships in 2021, coming away with three medals – a silver and two bronze. She is now part of the 2021-22 Swim England Junior Squad and has been selected for Phase 2 of the National Development Programme. Eva is definitely one to watch for the future!

Bethany Ecuyer-Dale
Beth started playing netball at Otford Netball Club when she was nine. She was selected into the U19 National Performance League for Surrey Storm at just 16 years old and then for the England U19 National Academy.

In 2016 she moved to Saracens Mavericks who are based in Hertfordshire, where she was selected as captain for their under 19 National Performance League (NPL) squad and went on in 2017 to be selected into the under 21 Saracens Mavericks NPL squad. She was then selected to play for the Saracens Mavericks Super League Squad who play in the Vitality Super League which is screened live on Sky Sports.

Beth is now a regular starter playing Centre for the Mavericks and Vitality Netball Super League recently called the 22 year old “a centre star in the making”.