Inspiring the nation with her unique take on yoga during the COVID-19 pandemic, Welsh International, Alecs Donovan, is a force to be reckoned with - both on and off the rugby pitch.
You’ve been successful in sport and in business, where do you get your drive to succeed?
I come from a very sporty family; both parents are internationals (mum with hockey and dad with rugby) and my sister is an incredible athlete. They all inspire me in different ways and they’re all so supportive – even when they aren’t physically there, I can still feel their encouragement which gives me that extra drive to succeed. They are all so talented – they’ve set the standard pretty high!
When I was younger, Netball was my main love sport wise; unfortunately, my main love also started my injury life – a few ankle sprains here and there and a knee op; not unusual to the game…But the injury that stopped netball in its tracks was a complete rupture of my Achilles.
The lowest point of my injury was hearing I may not be able to run or jump properly again. After what felt like months of learning to walk again, the specialists suggested Yoga. Yoga for me at that time was a bit of an eye-roll to be honest – I felt that if something didn’t make you sweat or made you fitter, it wasn’t even worth giving it the time of day. I tried a few different styles – some I couldn’t wait to leave; some were too hard, and I even actually fell asleep in one!
After going for about six weeks to a class I enjoyed, I could see such a difference between how my left side worked from my right – and how immobile I had become through years of no flexibility work, constant impact sport and seeing a warm-up as a waste of time.
"Within a year I couldn’t believe how much the business had grown!"
You’ve now founded two yoga based businesses: Yogability – a yoga method specific for athletes, boasting clients including Gallagher Premiership rugby club, Bristol Bears; and The Yoga Hub, a Cardiff based fitness centre, where members can get unlimited amounts of yoga and Pilates for a fixed monthly fee. How did you turn that rehabilitation experience into your career?
All of my ideas career-wise come from not being able to find it myself. I couldn’t find a Yoga method specific for athletes and cater to people like me – so I created Yogability.
Deep down I knew I would never go back to netball after my Achilles rupture, but my identity was always to be a part of a team and to play sport. I dabbled in a bit of rugby in school and my dad still played touch rugby with his friends twice a week, so I thought why not try rugby again.
I joined a local club that my friends played for. We won the league and the cup that year (probably not much help from me because I was still unsure of all the rules!). The club then dropped the Women’s team, so my Dad helped set up a Women’s team in Swansea where he is Club Secretary; and the entire team moved over to play for the Whites.
After hearing I was playing rugby after an Achilles rupture a few rugby teams asked for me to teach them Yogability…before long I started working with the WRU 7s team and that’s when I knew I had something – within a year I couldn’t believe how much the business had grown! A similar thing happened with The Yoga Hub; I’d love to be able to pay monthly to get unlimited amounts of Yoga and Pilates. Speaking to people in the gyms I used, I realised that most people didn’t go to Yoga classes as they were too expensive. So my first aim was to make it very reasonable.
The second aim was to get away from the misconception that there is only one type of yoga. We offer 14 different styles of Yoga and Pilates – taught by 12 different instructors. I wanted people that may not have liked a class in the past to realise that there are so many others they could go to and to try. Everyone has different needs and wants so I wanted to cater to that. I opened the Hub upstairs in a gym called UFIT in Cardiff; The gym and the coffee shop are open 5am until 11pm which was a massive appeal to me as I wanted people to see it as more of an event. Rather than just turn up, do a class and go home, you can stay for coffee or meet up with friends too.
"I didn’t have time to think, but even just running onto the pitch took my breath away."
You made your Wales debut as a second-half replacement against Italy in what was a record attendance for a Wales women’s international, at Principality Stadium (11,062). What was that like?
It was a dream come true; it all happened so fast it was a bit of a blur. I just remember someone going off for a head injury assessment and the manager shouting my name; I didn’t have time to think but even just running onto the pitch took my breath away. I was lucky enough to have my first cap at the Principality Stadium and I think I’m the only woman to do so which is cool! I also think at the time, I was so early into my rugby career that I almost didn’t realise what I had achieved so I was a bit naïve to it; which in the end I think was a good thing as I would’ve been too nervous otherwise!
It is fair to say that you are doing your bit for the public in the current pandemic with your free Instagram Yogability sessions. What inspired you to do this? What has the response been like?
Ah, thank you! Well, along with others, the fitness industry has been hit quite hard; with studios and gyms forced to close. A lot of my friends and clients work in the industry; so I started doing Instagram Live classes for them; the word spread and people seemed to love it. I had messages asking when the next one was and messages to say thank you from people I had never met. I think like me, it was something for them to set an alarm for and get moving in the morning and for some sort of structure to their day.
Now a lot of people who have never tried Yoga before are doing it regularly, and people who live too far away to come to my class can do it – which is great! I keep getting offered money and donations which is very sweet – but I feel lucky to be in the position I’m in. I have support from my partner, my family and savings, and I’m not the only one that has been hit with no work so I don’t want to make money off it – it helps me just as much as it helps everyone that does it.
We know that you’ll be an inspiration to many of our readers, but who is your inspiration?
One of my friends, Elli Norkett, passed away in a car accident a few years ago; I played rugby with her and she was also in the Welsh squad. No matter what I do, she inspires me to see how far I can get and reminds me that life’s too short not to try and not to live. Everything I do now subconsciously it’s for Elli.