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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 26 April, 2019

‘I'd be in awe as a kid watching my dad do it’: Rugby player Sharon Lynch on why she donates platelets

She was part of the first ever Irish rugby team to beat New Zealand.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I REMEMBER THE process so clearly. I’d be in awe sitting and watching my dad do it at 10. By the time I turned 18, it wasn’t even that I wanted to do it – I just had to do it.”

As the eldest in a large family, Sharon Lynch was often brought along with her dad while he donated blood, a habit that he started decades before while in the army. Although Lynch suspects that “he used to bring us to give my mother peace”, it had a lifelong impact. 

It wasn’t long before Lynch also became a regular blood donor. But when she moved job, a Google search for the nearest clinic brought her to a page about the “dire need” for platelet donors.

When she found she was eligible, Lynch realised she could donate platelets even more regularly than she could blood – every month rather than every three. Now with 60 or 70 platelet donations under her belt, you could say the rest is history.

Speaking of history, you might recognise Lynch from the incredible Irish rugby team that went to the 2014 World Cup and became our first ever to beat New Zealand. Lynch had picked up a rugby ball only six years before. Yet it’s something she’s still pretty modest about:

I came in at the latter stage of that era, the girls playing were my idols. The thought was if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything. If you hear that enough you start believing it. It was our mantra.

She admits: “When I first started playing with these girls they were so far ahead of me, but they bring you up to their way of thinking – it’s just a matter of buying into it.” 

Sharon Lynch with her parents Sharon Lynch with her parents at Dublin Airport, having returned from the World Cup Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Despite her historic win, her achievements off the pitch (and in the clinic) have at times been more emotional for Lynch. When you reach ten platelet donations, you receive a pin. At 50, you are invited to a special dinner in a hotel to hear from the people you helped:

It was so special to hear about the impact I’d had – you don’t think of the receiver. That night I heard from a little girl and a dad and I was absolutely in bits at the table. You don’t realise the effects at all.

Best of all, platelet donation was even easier to fit in around Lynch’s training schedule. Though it takes a little longer than blood donation, the blood you ‘donate’ is filtered and put back into your body: “It means you’re not as weak but you still get the bun and cakes after.” While it can take over an hour, Lynch uses the time to read or watch a film.

Although it’s not recommended that you train the day that you donate, with platelet donation Lynch can train the next day. When she returns to training, her plaster is often a conversation-starter among her teammates: “It always prompts questions about blood donation which is great”.

Nora Stapleton, Ashleigh Baxter and Niamh Briggs celebrate at the final whistle Sharon's teammates celebrate their historic victory against New Zealand in August 2014 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The truth is that teammates are naturally disposed to caring about others, says Lynch: “I’ve been playing team sports all my life and you just never want to let someone down – we’ve a natural ability to look after other people I think.”

These days, Lynch plays for Old Belvedere Rugby Club and has a busy job in the property industry – even this is something that she sees as an opportunity to recruit donors:

At the clinic, they’re always giving you little branded travel mugs, pencils and earphones. I always nab as many as I can everytime I go, so that I can put them up around the office.

And if you’re in a Whatsapp group with Sharon, chances are she’s invited you to donate there too: “We have so many rugby Whatsapp groups.” One in particular contains all of the retired players from the Irish team. Currently in talks to climb a mountain together, Lynch has also organised that a few will go together to give blood.

It’s a community that is only getting bigger all the time says Lynch: 

There are more and more women – it’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. I joined at 26, now girls start at 6 and play for Ireland at 16. The standard gets higher every year, it’s unbelievable.

It’s also an incredibly supportive community – one where acts like blood donation flourish, says Lynch. Her club in Dublin 4 has become a hub for women supporting each other. In it Lynch says that girls from many different countries come together to bond over the sport – regardless of their ability:

I can’t express it enough – it’s such a good environment to be in. We’re always trying to bring each other on. We have seven players on the national squad and people who haven’t picked up a ball before but we’re all one team, one squad.

Regardless of any scores or tries her teams have had (she’s also played for Leinster), nothing will compete for Lynch than what it means to donate: “The feeling you get afterwards can’t compare to anything else. You’ve the tiniest bit of pain for a few seconds but the high is very hard to match.”

Better than beating the best rugby team in the world? Maybe.

Some 3,000 blood donations are needed each week in Ireland to keep up with demand – 67% of these help to fight cancer. Platelets are collected in Dublin (National Blood Centre, James’s St) and Cork (St Finbarr’s Hospital). There are mobile clinics in communities nationwide – the teams travel to more than 250 locations. Call Dublin (01 4322800), Cork (021 4807429) to donate platelets or find your local blood clinic here.

Read more: If someone needs something, we’re one big football family’: Why referees are urging players to donate blood

‘My dad donated for so long and suddenly he was relying on others’ blood to keep him alive’

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