The skip of the Australian women’s curling team reveals how she combines life on the rink with her day job as a paediatrician.

A childhood in Scotland meant that curling was a way of life for Helen Williams. But when injury looked to have cut short her sporting ambitions, she moved to Australia and focused on her career as a paediatrician instead. The opportunity to represent her adopted nation proved enough to lure her back to the sport, however; and now Williams combines skipping the Australian women’s team with her work at Perth Children’s Hospital and the University of Western Australia. Here, she reveals how she manages to balance her two roles…

Starting out
“I’m a farmer’s daughter from Scotland, and so being on the farm, with all the animals, I found biology really interesting. So I got into medical school and the plan was to be a rural GP in Scotland. But I’d always curled as well. I’m from a curling family, and so I always played after school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and then at weekends as well. I was runner-up in the Scottish Junior Championships, and then played with [Olympic gold medallist] Rhona Martin’s team for a while, in the earlier days.”

Injury strikes
“I was part of the national training squad and we were looking ahead to the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998; but then I injured my right ankle and broke a bone in my foot. I decided to have a year away from competitive curling, because until that point I’d been so committed to working hard, curling hard, training hard; and I thought, ‘I’m out for a while, let’s have a year away.’ So I ended up in Perth, thinking it would be for a year, but we ended up staying. That was 20 years ago.”

A new opportunity Down Under
“I wasn’t really thinking about curling, and when we decided to stay I really thought that would be the end. But then the Australian curlers got hold of me and I skipped the women’s team for four years before having a 10-year break for kids. I’d been away from the sport for so long, but last year I got the chance to play again, and it’s just lovely to be back.”

Getting perspective from my work
“The job that I have as a paediatrician can be fairly tough at times, given some of the clinical situations that we face; and that means that it puts life very much in perspective. It really makes you appreciate every single opportunity you have when you’re physically fit, can enjoy being active and are able to participate in sport. It’s definitely a good distraction from the curling.”

Using my sporting skills at work

“If you have a full-on career, I think sport can be a really good diversion from that. But I also think there are a lot of things that you can use from sport in your professional life. Things like setting goals, commitment and working to a schedule can all be applied in both lives. But also things like trying to make the most of every single team member that you have and working on communication together; there are a lot of things that you can take from sport back to the workplace.”

Finding a balance
“It is challenging. I’m very fortunate that I am able to work part-time; and I’m also fortunate that my employers and colleagues support it. They can see the benefits of having sportspeople in leadership roles and that it works well. The main challenge is managing my time, but my family are all very supportive. The kids are older now, which makes it a little easier. I just have to be very organised so that I can fit all my clinical responsibilities and work responsibilities around the curling competitions. I need to keep up my part of the deal, so that when I’m away from work I know happily that I can focus full-time on the curling.”

My advice for other athletes
“If you’re worried about balancing a job with your training, try and work part time. I think 20 years ago it was probably harder to work part time. Work styles have changed considerably, and I think if you’re able to work part time, you can then do both things really well, and also probably find an employer who actually appreciates what sports participation can bring – even just having a physically and mentally healthy employee has significant benefits. Plus, people who can be organised, and people who can multitask and those who can work well within a team really have huge benefits for employers. Athletes can do all those things, so they can be an asset for any employer.”