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Injured Black Fern Charmaine Smith’s silver lining ‘I got a daughter!’

Charmaine’s time off the field wasn’t wasted after ticking off a family goal

Three years ago, Charmaine Smith’s world lay in tatters. A bulging disk pressing on her spinal cord left the award-winning Black Fern with no alternative but to medically retire from professional rugby.

These days, she’s competing in rugby’s inaugural global women’s rugby tournament, WXV1, and in the best form of her life. She’s also mum to her ultimate bundle of joy, two-year-old Amīria.

“I feel so good,” says Charmaine, 32, who says she is now in peak physical condition – even more so than before her injury. “It’s taken a long time for me to get my body back to full fitness after having a baby and after having my injury. It’s been a challenge – and trainings are tough – but I love a challenge! It’s been a hard road, but I truly feel confident in what my body can do now.”

In fact, Charmaine believes what happened has changed her for the better.

“I feel lucky – I really do,” says the rugby lock, who is currently training full-time while her parents, Hayley and Brian Smith, and partner Tamati Thompson, 32, share Amīria’s daycare runs. “When you have something taken away from you really suddenly like that, it hurts.

“For five years, rugby gave me so much joy. I was at the top of my game. Stopping being able to play because of my injury was hard because it wasn’t my choice. I literally packed all my rugby gear into a box and couldn’t even watch a game. But that enforced break, while heartbreaking, gave me an opportunity to realise that I’m more than just a rugby player.

“Firstly, it made me realise just how lucky I am. My friends and family don’t just love me because I’m a rugby player – they love me because I’m me. And while I couldn’t play, I got a daughter – and she is the best thing ever. She brings me so much joy. Having a baby is the hardest, most rewarding thing ever. It’s made me stronger and more resilient.”

The delighted new mum and police officer discovered she’s “more than just a rugby player”.

Also, in her other job as a police officer in her home town of Whangārei, she was able put her own situation into perspective. “I really leant on my job as a police officer during that time and it really helped,” says Charmaine, who has worked in the police force for almost 12 years. “In the police, we often see people at the worst time in their lives – and here I am, being sad because I’m told I can’t play a sport. I found that looking at things that way helped me with gratitude and with staying positive. Yes, I’ve been to some dark places, but there are always darker places. Remembering this has helped me always come out fighting.”

While Charmaine has clearly put a lot of hard work into her recovery, she credits her parents for her optimistic outlook. “My parents have always been my role models,” she reflects. “I’ve learned so much off them. I try as hard as I can to be the best I can be and I’ve learned that because I grew up with two hard-working parents. So yes, I am a glass-half-full person – just maybe not at 5am on a night shift!”

While Charmaine currently only sees Amīria when her parents or Tamati bring her to games, there’s no doubt this little bundle of fun is the light of her life.

“It’s amazing being able to share this part of my life with her,” tells Charmaine, who can relax knowing that Amīria is being looked after by dad Tamati.

“We were in Black Ferns camp for two weeks, with a week off in between. I was so lucky her birthday fell in that week, so I got to go home and spend the day with her. She’s hilarious – she’s already loads funnier than me!

“Amīria has a very strong personality. At two, she already knows exactly what she wants. Honestly, she is the joy of my life. Everything has changed for me since I had her. She travels to our games and it’s amazing being able to share this part of my life with her. These days, I get to have cuddles with her straight after a game and I have her on my hip when I’m talking to the crowds. She’s funny, though – she gets very jealous and doesn’t want to share me with the crowd. She’s like, ‘Mum, why are you talking to all these people?!'”

It’s tough, juggling being a rugby professional, a police officer and a mum, but Charmaine wouldn’t change a thing.

“Whichever job I’m doing – that’s the one I turn up for,” she tells. “When I put on my police uniform, or my rugby boots, that’s what I become. Then when I get home, it’s back to mum mode – track pants with food stains!”

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