For Adams and Gaastra, lacrosse has been their release. However, for Stott as coach, there have been more complications due to the sport not having been granted elite status and the fact that her players have to pay to represent their country, as is also the case with England and Wales.
“In some ways lacrosse has been even more of a stress than my day job. I feel the weight of responsibility to provide for my players,” she says.
“The players are so frustrated about not being able to get out there, and I want to be able to provide that for my squad. We are coming up against real hurdles like judging sports on Commonwealth and Olympic Games status. Our three nations are in the top 10 and among the best in the world, we are playing at the pinnacle.
“There is also a big push towards Olympic inclusion for lacrosse. There is not much difference between what our guys are putting in and an Olympic or professional athlete.
“They have to do it around all their other commitments and pay their own way as well. We have heard about meetings and being told, ‘Lacrosse is not an elite sport, this is a recreational sport, this isn’t anything serious’, and we are thinking, ‘You don’t know our sport, you don’t know the work our players put in and what they are going through.’”
From a player perspective Adams adds that the burden of paying a base £800 a year to be part of the England squad, as well as upwards of £2,000 to play in tournaments, means that players have tough decisions to make. “It depends on what your job is, a police wage isn’t flash, I have had to rely on savings and my parents have had to help me out over the years,” she admits.
“That, for me, limits the sport because not everybody has the capability to do that.” Stott adds: “From a coach’s point of view, there is nothing worse than you are not going to be able to select a player because they can’t afford to play. Paying to play is tricky and the thing holding lacrosse back.”
Due to the adversity players have faced on and off the field this year, the old rivalries between the English, Scots and Welsh have lessened. As Gaastra concludes: “I feel like the teams have all become closer having gone through this difficult season, we are all in the same boat that we cannot train. We are all a bit more supportive of the other nations now as well as having that healthy rivalry.”
It is rare that you will see sporting rivals from England, Scotland and Wales sit down together without an air of rivalry. But Emma Adams, Ailsa Stott and Eleanor Gaastra know only too well from their lives on and off the lacrosse field that these are not usual times.
Stott is Scotland’s head coach after an illustrious playing career, Gaastra the Wales captain and Adams a senior England player. And they have all been working at the sharp end of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Stott and Gaastra are doctors, Adams a police officer. The trio bond over what they all describe as an “emotionally draining” year in which their sport has been their escape.
They also wish to knock down national boundaries in a plea with the Government and sporting authorities to have lacrosse granted elite sport status. Without it, none of the three nations can train collectively in the build-up towards next year’s postponed World Championships in Los Angeles while in lockdown as the sport is designated “recreational”.
They also speak with a united front on the limitations of paying to play for your country. Gaastra, 32, an anaesthetist working in the intensive care unit of Salisbury General Hospital, has been dealing with some of the most vulnerable Covid-19 patients.
“We were learning about how to treat something that we hadn’t learnt in medical school or that we hadn’t seen before,” she says. “It doesn’t behave like other diseases. The way we were treating patients was actually changing week to week, or month to month.
“What we are doing now is very different to what we were doing six months ago for these patients. The research is happening on the job.
“Working in intensive care has been full of highs and lows. Some of the patients with coronavirus have been in intensive care for many weeks, and in some cases many months. We felt like we got to know them, especially as their families were not with them.
“We felt as intensive care staff, we were the ones to be really caring for them from that human perspective. When some of our long-stay patients left the ICU, we would clap them out of the ward; that was amazing.”
Gaastra’s voice breaks as she explains that some of her patients have not recovered. “Obviously, there were some equally low lows. There was one case, which did hit me quite hard,” she says.
“We had a patient who was with us for several weeks, and he wasn’t that old – early middle aged. And he died quite suddenly on one of my shifts. With his family having not seen him for weeks, having to break that news to the family was really heartbreaking. I won’t forget that.”
Although the conversation is on Zoom, there are nods of understanding from Adams and Stott. For Stott, who gave birth to Jonah last month, working as a general practitioner has been tough. Although she has got used to virtual consultations, the increased level of patients presenting with mental health issues has been the hidden epidemic behind the pandemic.
“The main impact of Covid, we have seen, are the mental health implications. I have seen a lot of patients with Covid as well but they tend not to be that sick and are at the other end of the scale to what Eleanor is seeing, but what we are seeing more of is the significant mental health impact of social isolation,” she says.
“It takes a bit of an emotional toll doing these consultations back to back. They are quite long often, you can’t just give a person five or 10 minutes, you have to give people the time that they need and you take on some of their worries and their burdens – that is how the consultation process works.
“Speaking to lots of worried, anxious or even suicidal patients, many more than I would have done in the past, is difficult.”
In the police, Adams has had her share of harrowing experiences and also points to the mental health crisis. The 25-year-old says: “We had to deal with a lot more suicides. For me it has been a massive learning curve on the lack of mental health support across England.
“One job, which really struck me, was dealing with a lady who said she wanted to end her own life and she had four very young children. She was only 23 herself. That was a situation I never found myself in before where I am trying to convince someone to stay alive for their children. Eventually, she got the help she needed, there was a win in that situation, but it hasn’t always been the case.
“That has been the most emotionally draining part of the job for me. I am able to switch off, but there are things like that which you cannot leave behind after you finish work for the day.”