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Story on Ryleigh Hayes for Fitness Journal


As with any field or industry in this world, be it sport or entertainment, there is always the one to watch. The one who is on top of their game, leading the pack, and filled with potential that’s just waiting to be unleashed. For the world of women’s rugby, the one to watch is Ryleigh Hayes.

After all, it’s not every day that you get to have “running on to Mt Smart Stadium and playing on the home of the warriors when I represented Counties Manukau” as a career highlight so far.

​Born in Whakatane and grew up in Kawerau, Ryleigh played in the different teams available back when she was at Trident High School. Out of all of those teams, though, it was in volleyball that she got a head start in. “Volleyball was the only sport I played for my 5 years attending and where I believe I grew as sportsperson mentally.”

Since then, it’s become very apparent that sports has become a big part of Ryleigh’s life. Currently she is balancing being in her second year of Bachelor in Sport and Exercise Science at Wintec, and part-time jobs in two different fitness centres.

Then there’s the sport she is most passionate about – rugby.

“Touch is the first sport I ever represented Bay of Plenty at making the U13 girls team,” she says candidly.

Ryleigh’s credentials speak for themselves – New Zealand Maori Under 21 Mixed Touch Team Rep (2012), Papakura Rugby League Champion (2013, 2014), Counties Manukau Rugby League Rep (2013), Bay of Plenty Woman’s Sevens Rep (2012-2013), Bay of Plenty Open Mixed Touch Rep (2012-2013), Bay of Plenty Open Woman’s Touch Rep (2014-2015), and Marist Woman’s Rugby Team (2015).

Considering that she only decided to play rugby fairly recently, the list is quite impressive. “I started rugby when I was still living with my parents and turning up to Bay of Plenty Woman’s Sevens Trainings to make that squad in 2012. I moved to Hamilton and decided to take up the opportunity to play rugby league for Papakura in 2013 and I came to love the sport and win the championship with them.”

“Rugby was all we had in the bay,” she continues, “but once I moved to Hamilton more opportunities came and I grew to the liking of league because it is a lot like touch but obviously with tackle.”

But like with any sport, there is always a risk of injury and Ryleigh has just recently had an ACL reconstruction which means that currently her sporting goals are on hold. “I’ve had to re-evaluate my goals such as putting touch on hold for the season but using this time to enjoy life and work my way back to where I was, rehab my knee properly, and focus on building other aspects of my life.”

The injury is one of the biggest challenges she faced in her career so far and she is planning to overcome it by “putting in the time to rehab and take my time making sure my body is 100% before heading back on the field.”

Rest assured, Ryleigh is not letting her injury take over her life. Already looking ahead, next year she plans to gain fitness and trial for Auckland 9s Woman’s Team and to make the Kiwi Ferns too.

Her fighting spirit is impressive, and her motivation to succeed is palpable when you talk to her. “My family motivates me to do well at whatever I put my mind to. Recently I was asked what my favourite motivational quote was and truth be told, I don’t have one. I play sport because I love it and my family have always supported me.”

Feeling inspired yet? So are we.

Here’s what Ryleigh had to say to anyone who wants to get into rugby or professional sporting:

“Don’t forget why you started playing the sport in the first place. Grow and develop the younger players around you. Play for the enjoyment and be a positive sportswoman.”

Rules to live by indeed.