Alyssa Conley has not ruled out the possibility of returning to the athletics track as she has her eyes set on the 2022 Commonwealth Games, while pursuing her rugby career.
In 2019, Conley decided to trade in her spikes for a pair of rugby boots as she ventured on a new path in her sporting career after dedicating 21 years to athletics.
She believes that this change is a necessary break away from the track for self-discovery.
Her journey with the Springbok Women’s Sevens team has been a learning curve for Conley who has had to quickly transition from an individual sport to a team sport. But, being a sports fanatic, she has grasped the ins and outs of rugby.
Growing up in a sports-loving family, Conley together with her sister, Highlands Park’s fitness and conditioning coach, Simone’, were introduced to various sports from a young age.
Her speed on the athletics track was discovered from the age of four when she ran her first race at school and shocked her teachers with the talent that she possessed.
From there, her parents invested in cultivating her athletics career and by the age of 12, she ran a record 12.05 in a 100m race at the Pacific School Games which has still stands today.
She went on to feature at the Rio Olympics in 2016, African Championships, and national champs. A year later, she faced her biggest disappointment, when she was left out of the 2017 IAAF World Championships team.
Two years later, she pivoted to rugby, but could athletics still be a viable option for this talented star?
In this interview with Celine Abrahams, Conley talks about the evolution of her sports career and calls for more exposure for female rugby players.
Alyssa, thank you for chatting to us! What’s life been like for you under COVID-19 lockdown?
It’s just a whirlwind! I think we all go through emotional stages during lockdown. The first phase felt like it was an amazing two-week break from life, then all the doubts and fears for future life starts to creep in and your mind starts going crazy but I’ve been luckily enough to be on lockdown with my girlfriend Michelle and we have kept each other sane for the most part.
How are you training during this time?
I used the first two weeks to rest my body, then I started off by focusing on stabalizing and rehab exercises. I also just get creative and use bricks, buckets, poles basically whatever I find to create weights. I do miss the gym though.
How are you managing to keep motivated and in a positive state of mind?
By staying in contact with my sister Simone’ Conley (Highlands Park fitness and conditioning coach) she always motivates me to keep focused on my goals. My cousin Monique has also played a crucial role in keeping me motivated and sane during this time.
Where does your passion for sports come from?
Definitely my parents Lloyd and Elize Conley, they love sports and exposed my sister and I to all kinds of sport when we were young. The love for sport grew on us as a family and I don’t see myself living life without sport being a part of it.
“It all started at the age of 4 when I ran my first race in Riverlea, and the teachers were shocked by my speed from there my parents put in all the effort to cultivate my talent.” – South African sports star, Alyssa Conley
Please tell us about your journey into athletics.
It all started at the age of 4 when I ran my first race in Riverlea, and the teachers were shocked by my speed from there my parents put in all the effort to cultivate my talent.
What were your biggest challenges during that era of your sporting career?
Dealing with injuries is always a challenge in an athletes’ career. It’s actually inevitable so I would say rather then my biggest challenge, my biggest disappointment was being left out of the 2017 IAAF World Championships team.
Did you always see sports as a feasible career path for yourself?
Yes! Since the age of 4 whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, I answered, “an Olympian!”
You shocked the sporting community when you announced that you were ditching your 21-year athletics career for Sevens Rugby! What brought about that decision?
I guess I needed change and a new challenge, maybe even just a break from track for a while. A break is always good for self discovery.
What were the reactions from people close to you when you told them that you were making the change?
Shocked at first as everyone believed I was in my prime for track and field, but supportive thereafter.
What was the feeling like having to leave the track after years of dedication?
A hard pill to swallow but I knew I would make a return to track if its in God’s plan for my life.
What was it like transitioning from an individual sport to a team sport?
“I was hoping to play more games and tournaments for the SA 7’s rugby team but I definitely enjoyed the time I have spent with the girls and team.” – Conley speaks on her transition in rugby.
The toughest challenge of my life but I have learnt so much within the two years of my transition. I was hoping to play more games and tournaments for the SA 7’s rugby team but I definitely enjoyed the time I have spent with the girls and team.
What was your first day of rugby training like?
As soon as I arrived at the academy, I was put through testing which I was not expecting… My thoughts were, “Alyssa, what have you got yourself into!”
What changes have you had to go through to make yourself physically stronger?
I don’t think I’m physically stronger than I was when I was on track, but I have picked up muscle mass. The training load has definitely increased, and my body had to make some crazy physical adjustments.
Are you satisfied with the decision that you made to give rugby a try?
Yes, I am! I have learnt new skills, I have made great self discoveries, I met amazing people so I am definitely satisfied and at least now I know I can play a ball sport, lol, well kind of!
Do you think that female rugby players receive as much exposure as compared to track and field athletes? Is it the same or are there differences?
Definitely not, which is a sad reality because we train hard but there is way more exposure and interest in track and field. There’s more sponsorship opportunities and media opportunities, so I definitely lost out on a lot of exposure and sponsors with the decision to make the transition.
What changes are you hoping to see take place in women’s rugby?
I hope more development academies will open up. There is no feeding scheme from school teams into varsity teams into provincial teams and then into the national team. I honestly believe if this can be implemented the national team will be able to compete with the best teams in the world.
What would you say has been some of your biggest highlights?
- Rio Olympics in 2016
- Back-to-back national champion in the 100m and 200m race in 2016/2017
- Silver medalist at the African Championships in 2016 in 200m
- The fact that I still hold the Pacific School Games record in the 100m race with a blistering 12.05 which I ran at the age of 12.
What are you aiming to achieve in the next five years?
I would like another come back in track leading into the 2022 Commonwealth Games, that’s if my body still has any speed left and just take it from there, anything from here is just a bonus.
What are your plans for life after sports?
To own a coffee shop and to get involved in sports development.
Photo 1 Caption: Alyssa Conley has not ruled out the possibility of returning to the athletics track leading into the 2022 Commonwealth Games, however, for now she is focussed on making her rugby career a success. Photo: Alyssa Conley
Photo 2 Caption: Growing up in a sports-loving family, Conley together with her sister, Highlands Park’s fitness and conditioning coach, Simone’, were introduced to various sports from a young age. Photo: Neville Bailey
Photo 3 Caption: Her journey with the Springbok Women’s Sevens team has been a learning curve for Conley who has had to transition from an individual sport to a team sport. But, being a sports fanatic, Conley has grasped the ins and outs of rugby. Photo: Alyssa Conley
Photo 4 Caption: She went on to feature at the Rio Olympics in 2016, African Championships, and national champs. Her biggest disappointment, though, was being left out of the 2017 IAAF World Championships team. Photo: Alyssa Conley
Photo 5 Caption: In this interview with Celine Abrahams, Conley chats about the exposure female rugby players deserve and her plans for life after sports. Photo: Alyssa Conley