Coronavirus: Wales' lacrosse internationals working on the pandemic front line

By Dafydd JonesBBC Sport Wales
Wales lacrosse team
Three of Wales' most decorated lacrosse players are working tirelessly as NHS doctors in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wales lacrosse team were due to be facing England, Scotland and Czech Republic over the first weekend of April.

Instead three of the country's most decorated players are working tirelessly in the fight against Covid-19.

Captain Eleanor Gaastra, Emma Hawkins and Ros Lloyd Rout have over 300 international caps between them.

However they won't be adding to that tally any time soon.

Instead they are concentrating on key roles as NHS doctors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Playing the sport they love is well and truly on hold for now but the values of the game are helping them, in these most challenging of times, take on the biggest test of their medical careers.

"I hope it will be a once in a lifetime thing for my colleagues and I," Gaastra told BBC Sport Wales between shifts as a specialist registrar anaesthetist at Salisbury District Hospital.

"We've not seen anything like this and we're just preparing to support each other in what is an unusual scenario and do the best we can with the information we have and the resources we do have."

Gaastra, who grew up in London but qualifies to play for Wales via her Merthyr Tydfil-born mother, has been using her experience of playing in three lacrosse World Cups to prepare for what will be gruelling weeks and months ahead.

"My skills from lacrosse - quick decision making, leading by example and communication skills - are key at the moment in emergency situations that we deal with in the intensive care unit.

Meet the Wales lacrosse internationals working as doctors on the coronavirus front line

"But also in day-to-day life in the intensive care unit by supporting other staff.

"As a supportive figure I try and get the best out of everyone on the team which I've had experience in with lacrosse and now I'm using that more and more in medicine.''

The 31-year-old Cambridge graduate is particularly in demand, as operating a ventilator is part of her day-to-day role.

"As an anaesthetist the focus has been a bit more on us because we have the specialist skills which would be required to look after patients on intensive care wards.

"So my day-to-day job involves putting people on ventilators and then looking after them and organ support for patients that are critically unwell.

"That's what I've been trained to do and that's my main job which has come to the forefront for those patients that are critically unwell due to Covid-19."

Support from team-mates vital

Comfort during these most testing of times has come in the form of support from those across the country who clap for NHS workers on Thursday nights, but the trio also have extra backing from their lacrosse team-mates.

"I think it's great to have support from my lacrosse team-mates as well as my colleagues in work and it's amazing the support we're getting too from the rest of the population," said Lloyd Rout who is a GP working part-time at a practice in Guildford.

"I wrote a message on our team messaging group saying we were struggling at our practice because we didn't have any eye protection and within a few minutes I had so many offers of support,"

"Downe House School, where one of our players teaches, have kindly donated their science goggles so now all in our practice have the eye protection we need," added the 37-year old who is Wales' most capped Lacrosse player.

Planning for the impact of coronavirus is taking up the bulk of the Oxford graduate's time, but she is well aware that regular practice duties will still need much of her attention.

"We're starting to see more and more patients with the virus and over the last few weeks we've been preparing for what's coming.

"The focus is obviously on the coronavirus at the moment but other illnesses are very much happening and we need to make sure we're not missing those.

"We're seeing a lot of people presenting late and not coming to the doctor soon enough so people do still need to call us and ask for help."

The number of patients could explode

While scientists speculate that coronavirus could be with us for months to come, Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, has said cases could peak over Easter and then begin to fall if the public follows social-distancing measures.

The nature of this unprecedented public health crisis makes for almost constant change in work practices with Hawkins, a GP in Banbury, North Oxfordshire, braced to be inundated with coronavirus patients.

"There's a lot of work being done to prepare for potentially a peak of poorly patients with coronavirus over the next few weeks," said Hawkins.

"It's difficult to know at what point potentially the numbers could explode but I don't think we're very well prepared.

"What we've got doesn't feel entirely adequate and we're trying to source more masks because we recognise our need will increase over the next few weeks.

Sport is very much secondary for the lacrosse doctors at present with their attention fully on helping to tackle head-on the worst global health crisis in living memory.

However, the thought of playing the sport they love so much again is helping them get through dark times, with 37-year-old Hawkins and her team-mates, who are self funded and seeking sponsorship, hopeful of representing Wales again at the World Cup next year in Towson, Maryland, USA.

"It's the World Cup in the summer of 2021 which feels close enough to be tangible but distant enough to be a realistic thing in the future that will go ahead and won't be disrupted by what is going on right now," said Hawkins.

"To pull on that red shirt for Wales and run out with teammates and sing the anthem, it raises the hairs on the back of your neck, it's such a privilege and a special thing".

Memories of the game they love, and the hope of playing it together again when this period of uncertainty eventually passes, are helping to keep the team-mates' spirits buoyed.