Ireland rugby international and Evolve Health Mentor Larissa Muldoon was cheered on by the Bridgend area primary schoolchildren she works with even when she played against Wales in the Six Nations tournament.
Larissa, 24, who has 32 caps for Ireland, said she was “speechless” after the fantastic backing from the youngsters she inspires through her work as an Evolve Health Mentor at Betws and Blaengarw primary schools in Bridgend.
“The support has been amazing,” commented. “The children backed me when we played against Wales. They are all very proud of me, which means the world.”
Larissa runs after-school rugby clubs for Years 3-6 and is seeing the number of girls taking to the sport grow. She is also having a big impact on the health and emotional wellbeing of children through mentoring, physical activity and wellbeing sessions at the two schools.
“It is amazing being a positive figure and role model in these young lives,” she said. “Many of them were not interested in PE, but what we do as Health Mentors has a much broader impact than just improving the physical fitness. We also see a rise in school attendance and in emotional wellbeing.”
Acting Betws head teacher Liz Pearce said the children follow every move of Larissa’s rugby career.
“The children are so enthusiastic and proud of Larissa,” Liz added. “She makes them feel valued and special by always encouraging their strengths.
“Larissa has a remarkable talent and her achievements are incredible, both for the physical and the whole wellbeing of the child.
“We are seeing a tremendous difference in our children and she is even getting the staff fitter too, which is good for the school. We are having a go at races and an assault course. She has made a positive impact on us all.”
Larissa works two days a week at each of the two schools. She grew up in Donegal and played Gaelic football initially. At 16 she took up rugby and went on to play for Ulster under-18s and Donegal under-18s.
She gained a BSc in Sports Development at Cardiff University and coached the Cardiff Blues and Ospreys rugby teams.
Pupils at Blaengarw and Betws have had physical activity/healthy living lessons, physical maths, fitness challenges and after-school clubs run by Larissa. Other activities have included classroom support sessions, mentoring, sports ambassadors, fun sports days and friendship groups.
Around half of the 229 children attending Betws Primary School are eligible for free school meals and are from disadvantaged areas.
During Larissa’s work from March to December last year the self-esteem of the Betws target group of children improved by 9.5 per cent, social skills by 22 per cent and the attendance of the Wake and Shake breakfast group by 16.8 per cent.
At Blaengarw School, meanwhile, Larissa’s target group reported a 4.7 per cent increase in aspiration, a 128 per cent increase in flexibility, an 84 per cent increase in balance for the physical health group and 20 per cent improvement for cardiovascular health and output. Reading levels also increased by one level for two targeted children.