The double life of Black Fern Becky Wood

On a suburban front lawn, under the cover of darkness, mysterious sounds punctured the night. A muffled thwack. The thud of a body hitting the dirt. A desperate cry of pain.

"Get up!" a voice urged. "Come on!"

Had they peered over the fence, the neighbours would have seen Black Fern Becky Woods, splayed on the ground, exhausted, her bemused partner Tu standing over her with a tackle bag.

"The neighbours must have been like 'what the hell are they up to?'" she giggles.

This was what it took to become a world champion.

By day, 30-year-old Becky fights fires. Five days a week she's at the Silverdale Fire Station by breakfast time, ready to douse flames, educate school kids, and rescue the odd animal from a tight spot.

Once she clocked off, it was straight to rugby training in the gym or on the field. If she struggled with skills, she'd go home and keep practicing with Tu into the night. Saturday was game day, Sunday was a recovery session. 

It was gruelling. She's not the type of athlete who bounds out of bed each morning. "I hate running," she grins. "If we had a yoyo [beep] test I'd feel sick all day."

In her downtime, she'd research, poring over games. "Any spare time I had I'd feel guilty - it was almost like you'd wasted an opportunity to be better," she says.

It's why Becky has been chosen as the face of the Rebel Sport campaign: "How many lives you live is up to you." 

It acknowledges that finding time for sport isn't always easy, but wants people to be inspired by just how much she has packed in.   

Friends for life.  Firefighters stay strong for each other. It's the same in rugby.
Friends for life. Firefighters stay strong for each other. It's the same in rugby. Photo credit: Rebecca Wood

Becky thanks her dad Clive for her drive, fostered growing up in rural Warkworth, north of Auckland.

"He was one of those dads who wouldn't let you win anything. No matter what it was - playing Connect Four, kicking goals - he wouldn't let you beat him," she laughs.

"The day I finally won - I beat him in a game of tennis - it was probably one of the best days of my life when I was younger because I knew I was actually better than him."

She's always been sports-mad, competing in netball, soccer, touch and surf boat racing. But it wasn't until she was 27 that she started playing 15-a-side rugby.Just 3 years later, she'd made the Black Ferns, lifting the World Cup in Belfast in front of her teary-eyed dad. She gets the most pride from knowing she couldn't have trained any harder.

Becky with her supportive partner Tu.
Becky with her supportive partner Tu. Photo credit: Rebecca Wood

The comradery of a team sport also kept her going. "It's almost like going to war - you need your mates to have your back and you've got theirs. Even when you're absolutely buggered - you look across at your mate - you're like 'she's still going, I've got to keep going as well.' I love that."

Becky has found the same spirit amongst her fellow firefighters - all willing to head into the flames, when everyone else is running out.

"There's got to be something wrong eh, you're wired a bit wrong!" she laughs.

It's clear she thrives on adrenalin. "It can be quite scary. You know the fire is there but it's so black, you can't see anything. So it definitely gets your heart racing."

Lisa Fedyszyn, Group Creative Director for Rebel's Advertising agency, Ogilvy, says Becky is an inspiration - balancing two challenging roles.

"What else is spare time for if not to create these goals and do amazing things?" she asks.

"Sport and exercise play such a huge part of New Zealanders lives, getting out there and giving it a go always beats going home from work and lying on the couch.”

Becky hopes future generations may not have to juggle top-level sport with a day job - as New Zealand rugby starts to pay women professionally.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," she says. "Younger girls coming through can see it as something to work towards."

This story was created for Rebel Sport.