Sally Myles, author and illustrator of Why is Mummy So Muddy?

Sally Myles, author and illustrator of Why is Mummy So Muddy?

Dundee-based rugby player, author, illustrator, research scientist, PHD doctorate, wife and, arguably, most importantly Mum; Sally Myles kindly gave up her small window of peace and quiet before she picks up her daughter from school, whilst her 15-month-old son is napping, to chat to us about her exploration into rugby, motherhood in our sport and about her self-published and self-illustrated children’s book Why is Mummy So Muddy?

After a break from the game, Sally’s husband had taken up playing again at Strathmore where one of the founders of the Women’s team has encouraged her to give it a go: “I’d only done tiny amounts of rugby in school just with the PE teacher but when I went along to Strathmore, I really enjoyed it,” Sally said.

“At that point I only had my daughter but being a parent, I was studying full time, and my partner had undergone some cancer treatment. My life was very full-on and I hadn’t been doing anything for me at all.

“It opened my eyes to show me that there was something I can do for myself, it was so nice to be able to move my body and feel the strength and power from doing it. It was a nice thing; it was my thing that I went away and did.

“The only time I stopped was when I was pregnant [with her second child] and couldn’t play.”

Sally moved to Dundee Valkyries a couple of years after starting her rugby career at Strathmore due to timings of work and training sessions. In the City of Discovery, Sally tells us how rugby is going from strength to strength: “We’ve got about 100 women in our membership, on a training evening it’s probably an average of 30-plus we’re getting. We manage to put out two teams most weekends. It’s very well run, everyone is on it and the culture is great so it’s no wonder recruitment is great.”

Sally even mentions that Dundee Rugby Club are looking into the possibility of having a childcare setting for players during training and games.

Sally and her son

There are a few things that are synonymous with both rugby and motherhood. Resilience, strength, teamwork, perseverance and commitment but the biggest ones? Trust, safety, and family.

Sally said: “My daughter used to come along to a lot of matches. There’s almost always lots of kids running about at games because there’s that many Mums playing.

“It’s a bit of a Village situation where as long as they’re big enough, the kids come along everyone keeps a half eye on them and they run riot as you’re playing.

“Not long after my son was born, he met the whole team. He was getting passed around, but I never had a worry as it’s all people [in your team that] you just implicitly trust. A good percentage of our team are parents, some are aunties, some young players, just such a good mix but you just trust in those people.

“It’s always felt like that for me, at all the teams I’ve been at really – that my kids have been safe with everyone who’s around and people are keeping an eye on them.

“In such a physical team sport where, week in week out, you’re putting your body on the line for other people, you really learn to trust one another. You’re with each other so much, you spend so much time with one another you do build that trust quickly – it might only be two training sessions and a game per week, but as a mum that’s a lot of your free time!

“I do feel like rugby is just so family orientated and family friendly. At a game the bar might be open and there’s a bunch of adults holding beers but I’d never in a million years be worried about my kids running around, it’s just such a safe environment for them to be in.

“There are so many mothers who play rugby, it’s such a great way for mothers to get into sport as it’s so friendly and great for people to come into. If you’ve had a baby or have kids there’s a place for you in the team regardless of your fitness, ability or your availability.”

Sally and her son at the launch of her book Why is Mummy so Muddy?

So how does a research scientist become a children’s author and illustrator?

Sally explained: “My research and PHD work has always involved a lot of presenting and drawing, my whole life I’ve always done art and illustration as a hobby.

“I’d finished my PHD and I was off after giving birth to my son. I was daydreaming one day and had come up with a little poem and that’s where it started and was the basis of the book.

“The whole thing is a rhyming poem, I ended up making it a bit longer so that it could become a book.

“I did a little bit of research and there was really just nothing at all; even just generic rugby books for kids there’s only about 10-20 about rugby as whole – let alone any about mums playing rugby!

“It just seemed like there was such a huge void when there were all these mothers who played rugby. So many of the skills and traits involved in playing rugby are positive things to do with being a parent as well.

“As a brand-new mother, I just thought why not challenge myself to do this, I think I have the skills to try it, let’s see how it goes.

“I wrote it, did all the illustrations and sat on it a little bit. I then released things about it [on social media] just to see what the feedback would be like, and it just went crazy!

“I posted the first photo, and everyone went crazy asking: Where can I buy it? When can I get it? At this point I’d written it and illustrated it and I knew who I wanted to print it, but I didn’t have any proofs, hadn’t checked how it looked and didn’t even have a website. I had people message me asking ‘where can I buy this?’ and I just didn’t know! It was really cool, but just for a split second a bit daunting too.

“I owe any success of the book to the community, and how well it’s been received and passed along. It’s a big testament to the rugby community in Scotland and further afield.”

Making sure she takes some books with her whenever Dundee Valkyries have games, Sally added: “We play Shetland tomorrow and we’ve messaged them to see if anyone wants a book as I can just take them instead of posting them, I’ve also taken some up to Caithness too!

“I’ve sold a lot in England and overseas, it’s gone a lot better than I could ever have imagined. Originally, I thought if I could sell 50 that would be great – now I’m just shy of 300.

“It’s crazy to see the reach that it’s had, when you see International women’s players popping up on the orders, that is very exciting.”

Sally and the women’s team at Caithness with their copies of her book

With her book and social media content, Sally hopes that she can help ride the wave of the women’s rugby movement, ensuring that young children growing up today know that rugby played by women is just rugby and not something that is unusual or a novelty: “To me it’s as important that every boy has this book as well as every girl.

“If their Mum, Auntie or Granny plays sport then I want kids to think “wow that’s great” and that it’s not even a consideration to them to think it’s unusual, because it shouldn’t be.”

When asked what’s next Sally hasn’t ruled out the possibility of another book but for the mean time, she is happy to do her bit in trying to grow the game with her new online rugby community.

“I’m trying now to use all the engagement I’ve got to just spread nice women’s rugby content.

“I just hope to keep bringing awareness, celebrating, and shining a light on women’s rugby at a grassroots level all the way up to international games.”

More information on Sally’s book Why is Mummy So Muddy? can be found on her website and social media pages:

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