Jen & Leah Banner
Jen & Leah Banner

Rugby player builds fitness and friendships with fresh challenges

Women’s rugby player Jen Kirby has taken on a new sporting challenge to raise money for ellenor.

The 25-year-old is training for the London Landmarks Half Marathon, alongside fellow rugby players Leah Poppy and Holly Hicks. All three women are members of the recently formed Old Gravesendians Women’s Rugby team.

Jen said: “I’ve noticed that the running has given me a lot more stamina. Rugby is very physical, but I think that to run you need more mental strength and determination.”

Jen and Leah helped to set up the women’s team last summer and have since become firm friends. Leah is ellenor’s Supporter Engagement Officer and has encouraged her fellow team mates to help raise money for ellenor.

Jen said: “I only live round the corner from ellenor hospice. It has always been such a big part of Gravesend, so I have always been aware of it, although I was not 100 per cent sure what they do, but I have learned from Leah. I naively thought it was just for end-of-life care, but I didn’t realise until recently that they come out into the community too.

ellenor is not just a hospice. They are helping my nan at the moment with day visits to her home and they have also helped my boyfriend Luke’s nan. It’s a charity that has touched everyone in the community in some way either personally or through a friend or relative. Ellenor is really quite a presence in Gravesend. It made sense to raise money for such a good local cause.”

There are between 15 and 20 players in the women’s team with Jen now and so far, they have played one proper 10-a-side game against Dartford Valley. Unfortunately, an injury stopped play.

Jen said: “I come from a rugby family and both my brother and my boyfriend play for the Old Gravesendians. We are quite a competitive family and sport is important to us. I have always been part of the rugby club and was keen to get on board when it was suggested we start a women’s team. I met Leah in our first training session – her dad was a member of the club too.”

Although a member of the club, Jen had never played rugby herself until the women’s team was set up last summer. Rugby is not a sport available at all schools, and girls’ teams are particularly rare, so she is glad to see more schools and clubs introducing the sport and opening it up to women players.

Jen said: “I was used to watching people play rugby – the same as Leah with her family. But now we are actually learning the rules and playing it ourselves. When we started the women’s team last summer there was no contact and we were mainly doing things like passing drills, but things have progressed from there.”

Rugby is not a sport for the faint-hearted and Jen often leaves a training session or match covered in bumps and bruises.

She said: “It’s true we do get a lot of injuries and rugby is very taxing on the body, but the better you play and fitter you are the fewer injuries you have. For instance, dislocated fingers are not uncommon, but you just need to learn to put your hand up to catch the ball, not out. And of course, basic fitness is so important – the more muscle you have the less likely you are to damage any bones.”

Jen, who works as a mortgage advisor, knows just how important it is to keep active, especially for people with fairly sedentary jobs. She was one of the many who took to running during Covid restrictions when other sports were unavailable.

She said: ““During the first lockdown I was living on my own, so I moved in with my brother Dan and we ran together. Running is a lot more about mental barriers than physical barriers. Now I have the Landmarks Half Marathon I have something to aim for and there is no reason to stop. I have more stamina than I did when I started the running training, and it will definitely help me with the rugby.”

Before the pandemic Jen had lost contact with many of her old friends and felt even more isolated during the Covid restrictions, but the rugby team has given her a fresh focus.

“Now I have more friends than I could have ever asked for,” she said.  “I have a great friendship with Leah, and we do everything together now, along with my boyfriend and her fiancé.”

Jen, Leah and teammate Holly are looking forward to the half marathon challenge on April 3, which takes in historical monuments and buildings including Nelson’s Column, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.

To find out more about the Old Gravesendians Women’s Rugby team contact Joe Fathers, the club’s Director of Rugby on 07753 322275 or email


If you would like to sponsor Jen, go to