PROUD Alana Sargent is out to prove that wheelchair rugby league is far from a man’s world after becoming the sport’s first-ever female national head coach.
The 31-year-old, who has also spent two years as the coach of Swindon St George’s wheelchair side, has been named as the Wales national side’s new head coach . Sargent looks set to lead Welsh men into September’s Four Nations tournament, against England, Scotland and Wales, in Medway, and next year’s European Championships.
Mum-of-two Sargent, who works as a community sports coach for Swindon Borough Council, is thrilled to have been handed the chance to help shape the future of wheelchair rugby league in Wales and is honoured to have been given the national nod, despite her sport being dominated by men.
“I applied for the job thinking that I would have no chance of getting it but I got invited for an interview and then told they wanted me a week later,” said Sargent, who has a son Lee, nine, and daughter Libby, five.
“When I was younger, I developed a medical condition called endometriosis, which is something that affects the female reproductive system and can make women infertile. I was told that I would never have kids but luckily, that wasn’t the case.
“I’ve still always struggled with my confidence a bit but my husband Paul always pushed me to try things. I started off volunteering with the council and then got into coaching.
“I’m really proud because I’m doing something that not many people say that they’ve done. There are no other female head coaches at this level because the sport is male-dominated.
“I’ve got to head up to Deeside once a month for training camps and we’re going to be having some very intense two-hour sessions with players that are eligible for Wales.
“We’re completely re-building the side and a lot of players are having to re-trial because we think that’s the fairest way to do it.
“There’s actually a bit of competition within the club now because Tony Ellis (chairman) is the new England assistant coach and Martin Lane is the England captain – there’s quite a fierce rivalry between the two countries.”
Wheelchair rugby league is one of the few wheelchair sports that allows both disabled and able-bodied competitors to take part.
Sargent added: “We’ve got all the same rules as normal rugby league but the tackling is similar to the kind of tag rugby we teach in schools – players have tags on their sleeves.
“For conversions and penalties, you use what we call a hand punt, which is just like what they do is Australian rules football.
“It’s a tag sport but it can get really physical.”