- Sandra Soler-Gomez is a former player turned coach
- Get involved in women's rugby
- Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition Programme - more
The picture of Sandra Soler-Gomez running through the packed streets of Bexley holding aloft the London 2012 Olympic Torch perfectly encapsulates the last decade of her life, which has been dedicated to both rugby and her community.
Now the chairwoman and coach of the girls teams at Dartfordians RFC, it wasn’t long ago that Sandra was rising through the ranks as a player at Saracens Women and the Emerging England side but she can now be found dedicating her life to promoting the community game.
'You get so much from this sport'
“I started playing rugby when I was 21 and my memories of playing back then is just how fun it was," said Soler-Gomez. "The tours, the songs and the friends, you get so much from this sport.
“On the pitch it was an outlet for me, it was a controlled but very physical game and I loved that side of it.”
Soler-Gomez began playing at Blackheath in south east London before deciding to move to Saracens to further her playing career.
"I stayed at Blackheath for two years but I decided I wanted to push myself a little bit further. I moved to Saracens where I stayed for the rest of my rugby career."
"The women's section was supported very well at Saracens and I think that's the reason we had success. At the time we were moving into a semi-professional sport and the commitment from Saracens was the reason that so many great players stayed there at the time."
Her teammates included many who went on to become established international players including Maggie Alphonsi and Amy Garnett - who became the first player to reach 100 caps for England - as well as Emma Mitchell, Maxine Edwards and Lisa Burgess.
The Red Roses effect
Sandra stopped playing when she had her first child and it wasn’t until her son showed an interest in playing himself that she found herself back at a rugby club.
"I regret having stopped playing now but I went on a different path. I started to coach different teams and recently we set up several girls teams. It started when we ran a girls’ summer rugby session two years ago and now we have three teams and over 70 players.”
Much of that success has been down to the work of Soler-Gomez who has worked tirelessly, and not just in rugby.
As well as devoting over 2,000 hours of her time annually to community coaching she has also helped raise over £85,000 for community causes. In the coming season she will also begin coaching the Kent U15 girls side.
Soler-Gomez believes there has been a significant rise in interest around the women’s game in recent years and says the widespread support of the Women’s Rugby World Cup is testament to that.
“The growth in women’s and girls’ sport is definitely happening. The interest is growing and it is amazing to see.
'An incredible opportunity'
This year Soler-Gomez's commitment to grassroots rugby was celebrated as part of the Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition Programme.
A group of 12 coaches from across the country were invited to take part in a training session with England head coach Eddie Jones as a reward for their work in helping to grow the game.
For Soler-Gomez, the session helped inspire her to continue her work in the sport.
"When you get an opportunity to learn from someone like Eddie Jones, it's amazing. To be able to get his insights was amazing but it was also an incredible opportunity to learn from the other coaches here as well.
"When you meet people from the game it makes you realise how special this sport is. You can go into any rugby club, anywhere in the world and you will be welcomed.
Soler-Gomez added: “Whenever I am trying to convince a new female player to participate I tell them that rugby gives you confidence. Rugby gives you friendships that will go above and beyond anything you’ve ever experienced.
“And it gives you teammates who will have your back on and off the pitch for the rest of your life.”
To find out how you can get involved in rugby as a player, coach, volunteer or referee click here.