Revered as one of England's greatest, Maggie Alphonsi lifted the World Cup with the Red Roses in 2014 - but without crucial funding in her career the former Saracen could have been lost to the game forever.
Alphonsi is the face of international women's rugby and arguably one of the most well-known names in women's team sports.
Before announcing her international retirement in 2014, she represented her country an impressive 74 times, scored 28 tries, won a World Cup, and helped England win a record-breaking seven consecutive Six Nations crowns.
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Alphonsi's childhood was far from conventional as she was in and out of hospital as a young girl after being born with a club foot.
She grew up on a council estate in Lewisham in a single-parent family, meaning finances were tight and she was forced to work several jobs - that was until The National Lottery and their support changed her life.
And with the World Cup starting this week in New Zealand - Maggie has opted to celebrate the extraordinary impact The National Lottery has had on the UK's sporting landscape, and to say thank you to National Lottery players for contributing more than Â£30 million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport - from grassroots to elite.
"The support it's provided me has been significant, for me The National Lottery helped my career hugely," said Alphonsi, who was meeting with women and girls who play for National Lottery-supported Haringey Rhinos RFC, to see for herself how National Lottery funding is having a positive impact on female participation at the club.
"I had National Lottery support, which basically helped provide for my expenses, medical support, my training and just being able to balance school life with being an athlete.
"It enabled me to be the athlete that I could be. If I think about my time as an athlete for England, I had to work several jobs, I didn't have the finances, and having that National Lottery support meant I was able to get to training even.
"It enabled me to be able to afford kit, I didn't have the money to do that. It enabled me to have the training boots, the shorts, the tops, to participate.
"When I think about as I got older, it gave me the opportunity to feel equal with other players who may have more money than me. So, it was very significant."
In the build-up to the Women's Rugby Union World Cup in New Zealand, which gets underway on October 8th, The National Lottery is highlighting how its players have contributed more than Â£94.6 million to support over 3,200 grassroots rugby union projects in the UK since 1994, including vital support to hundreds of projects that develop women and girl's rugby in each nation.
This includes funding to the national governing bodies of Rugby Union in England (RFU), Scotland (SRU) and Wales (WRU) to enhance the provision of rugby for women and girls, ensuring the game develops a pathway from grassroots to elite level and nurture talent for their national teams.
Other projects to have benefitted from National Lottery funding to grow participation of women and girl's rugby in England include Sheffield Tigers, Esher Rugby, and Ivybridge Rugby Club.
Highlighting the importance of funding to develop grassroots rugby union for women and girls, Maggie, said: "It's important to reflect on how National Lottery funding over the years has played a pivotal role in developing and nurturing talent for the future, and has helped progress the sport amongst thousands of women and girls throughout the UK - from grassroots to elite.
"This has no doubt helped the growth of the game amongst women and girls and has contributed substantially to the increased levels of professionalism we see today.
"I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities the game of rugby has given me in life. Whether it's the sense of community each of the teams and clubs I have played for have instilled in me, or the life skills, team ethic, responsibility, and leadership it has shown me, on and off the pitch - I owe a lot to the sport.
"That's why I'm delighted to highlight and support the impact the National Lottery funding has had on rugby clubs and projects throughout the UK."
Some of the funding has specifically been allocated to the national governing bodies of Rugby Union in England, Scotland, and Wales over the years to support the growth of grassroots women and girls' rugby and helped develop talent for their national teams, with National Lottery playersâ€¯helping to support the women's game during the pandemic, contributing much needed funding to projects throughout the UK.
Helen Rayfield, Chair of Haringey Rhinos, said: "We wouldn't be able to do half of what we do without The National Lottery funding.
"We don't charge the kids any membership here, so we need to find the money to pay for things like, kit, transport for away games, boots for kids that can't afford them, gumshield, and that money has got to come from somewhere.
"The National Lottery funding has also helped us ramp up our delivery in schools, so we've set rugby clubs in schools for girls which were all funded by the National Lottery.
"We got Â£10,000 from the Covid emergency fund, which was an absolute life saver, especially for a club like ours. Watching all our income disappear overnight was terrifying and The National Lottery Covid recovery fund meant that took a little bit of the pressure off.
"It was critical to have that funding, we probably wouldn't have all the girls that we do [without the funding]. We now have 65 girls in one secondary school in Haringey, much of which has been funded by The National Lottery and the future of the club would have been much less secure without the emergency Covid fund."
National Lottery players raise more than Â£30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport - from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk
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