Fitness and Performance
Unlocking peak performance with Harlequins Women RFC Kirsty Hillier
In the world of sports, where physical prowess meets unwavering determination, few journeys are as inspiring as that of Kirsty Hillier. As a rugby player for the Harlequins Women RFC, Kirsty embodies the spirit of resilience and excellence. But her story doesn’t stop on the rugby pitch; it continues on the side lines as she pursues a career as a Chartered MSK Physiotherapist at our Bodyset Beaconsfield Clinic, all while juggling multiple roles in the world of physiotherapy and women’s rugby.
Below, Kirsty shares insights into her experiences, the importance of a Pre-season BodyCheck MOT, regular physiotherapy, and the emotional support it provides to athletes. She also discusses the challenges female athletes face, the positive changes she’s witnessed in women’s sports, and offers valuable advice to young girls aspiring to pursue physically demanding sports careers.
Join us as we get to know Kirsty Hillier – both the dedicated physiotherapist and the formidable rugby player – and discover how her unique perspective is helping shape the future of women in sports.
Whether you’re an aspiring athlete, a sports enthusiast, or someone seeking inspiration in the face of challenges, Kirsty’s story is bound to resonate and motivate.
Tell us a bit about you
I’m a Chartered MSK Physiotherapist working at the Bodyset Beaconsfield Clinic. I also currently work with City of Oxford College and their Girls Rugby Programme, Activate Rugby Academy! I also work as the Lead Physiotherapist for Thames Valley Centre of Excellence (a rugby academy for girls aged 16-18) and I’m on the Medical Team at Oxford Harlequins, working alongside Bodyset Chartered MSK Physiotherapist, Ella Sissons who is the Head of Medical. I also play for Harlequins Women’s RFC.
What inspired you to become a physiotherapist?
Primarily my dad. He’s always been my greatest inspiration and my best friend. Unfortunately, he has a number of medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and osteoarthritis. This was extremely challenging for him when he was first diagnosed, particularly with rheumatoid arthritis as he was previously incredibly active and sporty, so he found it hard accepting that he wouldn’t be able to do all the things he was previously. Growing up I watched him attend physiotherapy appointments and I got to see first-hand how much it was aiding him. I always knew that I wanted to go into a job that would allow me to help people, but I’m not the biggest fan of blood/needles, so nursing or paramedic science was off the cards. I’m also a sporty person, so I was drawn to physiotherapy!
You recently qualified for the Harlequins Women RFC. Congrats! What has your rugby journey looked like up to this point and how does it feel?
Thanks! I didn’t start playing rugby until I was 17/18. I wanted to start a new sport as I hadn’t done any since joining college. I Googled local rugby teams and joined Worthing RFC U18s! The college I went to also had a rugby programme, so I ended up joining that team also as most of the girls at club played at college too. I joined the team at Oxford Brookes University in my first year and later joined Oxford Harlequins as part of their inaugural women’s team, whilst captaining Oxford Brookes in my third and final year. Last season, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to train with Wasps Women whom were in the Premiership, and ultimately it lead to me making 9 appearances for the side before joining Harlequins this season. I’ve been incredibly lucky in the opportunities I’ve been given and will forever be grateful to those who have enabled me to get to where I am today.
Your first big season with Harlequins RFC is coming up. What does your pre-season training plan look like?
Prior to going into preseason, I had a BodyCheck MOT, which enabled me to identify specific areas for improvement and allowed me to set some personal targets before joining in with preseason training! Now that preseason training has officially started I’m completing gym, speed, conditioning and general rugby sessions each week, and come into Bodyset for a weekly sports massage to aid my recovery!
What advice would you give to both professional and amateur athletes prepping for next season?
I would advise anyone taking part in any kind of sport to go for a BodyCheck MOT. It enables you to understand the weaknesses and strengths of your body, help understand and prevent any pain or niggles you may have. I feel the BodyCheck MOT has enhanced my sports performance as it provided me with a tailored performance programme for the season ahead!
Rugby is a physically demanding sport. How has regular physiotherapy contributed to injury prevention and overall performance for you and your team mates?
Research shows that you’ll spend about 20% of your sporting career injured, but regular physiotherapy has helped me to prevent this, enabling me to stay on the pitch for longer, which ultimately has allowed me to develop as a player. I’d advocate regular physiotherapy to anyone!
Physiotherapy is not just about physical rehabilitation but also about mental and emotional support through injury recovery and performance enhancement. How has your physiotherapist helped you with the emotional aspects of performance?
My Bodyset physiotherapist, Ella has made me feel comfortable in all of my appointments, creating a safe and trusting environment, which has enabled me to feel empowered and confident in discussing the mental challenges I sometime face. Ella helped me in signposting to other services that are available (such as sports psychology, talking therapies etc), but I know I could also speak to her about anything that is troubling me, and she always helps me through it.
Female athletes often face stereotypes and prejudices about their physical abilities compared to male athletes. How do you and your teammates tackle those misconceptions?
By continuing to show up every week to training and games, and consistently proving them wrong. As a result of the determination of every player, women’s rugby is quickly progressing!
How has your experience as a female rugby player influenced your perspective of women in sport, and what positive changes have you observed over the years?
Growing up I didn’t watch much women’s sport at all, everything I watched was male focused, whether it was football, rugby, tennis etc. But now, Women’s sport is being talked about much more frequently and is consistently growing. Look at the recent women’s football world cup for example. By having women’s sport more prominent in the media, it helps to inspire the next generation of young girls!
As a role model in the rugby community, what advice can you give young girls aspiring to pursue a career in rugby or other physically demanding sports?
Never let anything anyone says stop you from achieving your goals. It doesn’t matter your gender. If you put 100% into everything you do then nothing can stop you. Your journey can be tough at times, but you just have to push every barrier that gets in the way!