Deep in the dullness and the doldrums of COVID-forced isolation, a quintet of Western Bulldogs AFLW stars found a way to keep the wheels in motion.
Led by Bonnie Toogood, a team including Ellie Blackburn, Deanna Berry, Kirsty Lamb and Hannah Scott decided to take up cycling last year as a means of maintaining fitness and sparking competition in the absence of training due to the complications of COVID-19.
It was named the Lycra Club.
“It all started last year, through those major lockdowns,” Toogood told aflplayers.com.au.
“For some reason I felt like buying some lycra, and I wasn’t the only one in the team who had that want to do so. We ended up getting a group of Ellie [Blackburn], Deanna [Berry], Lamby [Kirsty Lamb] and Hannah Scott, who were the initial ones. We formed this little cycle club.”
When forced apart, the team within the team discovered new ways to ride together.
“Zwift was a bit complicated — it was hard to cycle together — but once we figured it out, it kind of worked out a bit. Strava was a revelation — its Facebook for people who want to do exercise as well. You can keep track of everyone, and the competitiveness goes up a notch,” the soon-to-be 24-year-old said.
It meant that in early November, when the playing group was told to isolate again — this time due to a positive COVID case within the program — members of the now famed Lycra Club knew where to turn.
The pre-season blow could have easily derailed the Dogs’ preparation for the upcoming season, but instead, the group built an even tighter bond.
“Initially you get the stress, and you count how many sessions you’re going to miss with the group and that sort of thing,” Toogood explained.
“You quickly have to reframe it. For me, it was like, ‘Yes, I won’t be running around on the field, but I can definitely still be working on other aspects’, and doing exercise gives me joy, so it was just taking the football aspect out of it and enjoying the hard work.
“A little bit was fuelled by frustration the first couple of days, and then it quickly turned. It was, ‘This is just what we’ve got to do’. Everything’s temporary.”
The Lycra Club became so reputable that even AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh decided to join in on a session with “the early morning crew”.
Toogood added that camaraderie between players proved a key driving factor in the maintenance of motivation.
“We don’t play football to train by ourselves, we train with each other,” the key forward said.
“I play football because I love to be with my teammates and I know we’ve had forced time apart, but it was about how we can keep connected and how we can keep each other motivated.
“You can easily sit there and be like, ‘Oh, all these teams are getting ahead of us’, but what can we do to make this work? I think that’s what we’ve learnt over these past two years with COVID, how we adapt and how we continue to build on what we’re trying to build on despite this little hurdle.”