Being the rose among the thorns is not easy in a male-dominated environment but it’s something that Melissa Martin, physiotherapist of FNB CPUT, embraces - and which she thrives in.
Varsitycup.co.za spoke to the 41-year-old ahead of the defending FNB Varsity Shield champions’ clash against FNB TUT in Tshwane on Friday - which the defending champions will be desperate to win to get their season kick-started following a surpirse Round 1 loss to FNB WSU.
It becomes clear quite early in our conversation that Martin is passionate about her career and where she’s going with it.
“My dream is to become the physiotherapist for the Springboks,” she says. “But, for now, my focus is with CPUT in the Varsity Shield and with the Western Province senior women’s team. But I’m looking forward to where this journey is going to take me.”
Martin grew up in Belhar on the Cape Flats [a neigbouring suurb to the CPUT Bellville campus] and went to Erica Primary and Harold Cressy in Cape Town before she became a Matie.
“In 2001 I graduated with a BSc Physio degree before packing for London where I worked as a physio in order to pay off my student loan. In 2007 I opened a private practice [Melissa Martin Physiotherapy in Oakdale, Bellville] and I’m currently still practicing privately. I am also currently completing a master of physiotherapy degree at my alma mater.”
Her love affair with rugby only started later and completely by chance.
“I had been treating rugby players privately but in 2015 I was contacted by Western Province and offered the role as physio for the Western Province women’s team. I wasn’t even aware at that time that women were playing rugby,” she laughs before adding: “It was then that I discovered my love and passion for the game and the rest, as they say, is history!”
So, is it challenging being the rose among the thorns?
“It can be challenging being the only female amongst a male team but it’s also very enjoyable. I embrace challenges that come my way. Team management and the players have a lot of respect for me and they value my role not only as their physio but also as a woman. I hope my success can empower other women to embrace challenges like these too.”
She describes winning the FNB Varsity Shield last year as a highlight of her career.
“Arriving back in Cape Town and the welcoming we got at the airport and the campus was mind blowing. It was such an honour to be introduced as the Varsity Shield champions at the graduation ceremony and was the culmination of hard work, commitment and sacrifices. I had the privilege of working with some of the best coaches and players. The funny thing is, when we scored the winning try in the final, I couldn’t celebrate because I was attending to an injured player. There’s actually a picture where one can see us in the background.”
She also sees herself as soundboard.
“The players know they can confide in me. They see me as a mother or a sister figure which I enjoy. I don’t have any favourites and I try to make each player feel valued,” Martin concludes.