It’s no secret that I like hockey. In fact, I shout it out from the rooftops at every opportunity because I have always believed in hockey as a sport. I started playing at the age of 11 as hockey wasn’t a sport that was accessible to me before (Lacrosse was the school sport of choice). And from the moment I picked up a stick, I loved it. Through playing and now coaching, I continue to love it, to watch it grow and develop and I will tell anyone and everyone who is interested (or not!!) about our sport.
It does slightly annoy me when our sport has been dismissed. For example; During a recent discussion with my former work colleagues pre-Olympics about which sports were going to win medals. The obvious sports were mentioned, Swimming, Athletics, Gymnastics, but when I put out there that the Hockey girls were going to win a medal, if not the Gold, I was shot down in flames; “No-one cares about hockey!” was the snipe, before continuing their conversation.
Well – we certainly showed them!
It was four years ago, I first had the pleasure of meeting the current GB squad pre London 2012. Running around the country as part of the 35 strong Olympic Torch security team for 70 days, the minutes spent at Bisham Abbey were definitely ones to remember.
It was the 10th July, 2012. We had no idea where the torch would take us today, or who any of the torchbearers would be, just specific timings, locations and numbers of torchbearers in each location. By day 53, the day’s were pretty routine – up, out and run. We barely had time to work out where we were, just where we needed to be in terms of on the road with our torchbearers. Today we were the running team. There were four main rotations of duties on the relay – running, support (the guys and girls on the pedal bikes), driving or rest.
Our coach was heading into the driveway of Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre and fellow hockey player Gunny [Claire Gunn] shouts, “OMG it’s Crista Cullen, that’s Kate Walsh, wait, is that all the hockey girls?” Scrambling to look out the side of the bus, we could see a lot of Team GB had lined up to see the arrival of the flame, taking a break from their preparations for London 2012.
I was so excited. We had already been the running team with Georgie Twigg on the 24th May, down Henleaze Road, Bristol and we were the support team on the 4th July for Captain Kate [Richardson] Walsh as she ran through Norwich. So to see the national squad of the sport I loved prior to a home Olympic Games was incredible.
I jumped off the bus, probably when it was still moving, I was so excited to see them and wanted to have the opportunity to have a selfie with the squad. Catching up with Annie Panter as she was walking back to resume training, I asked (probably begged if I’m honest!) if I could have a photo with her and the squad.
But at that moment I had a revelation. I had the Olympic flame! Surely they would want a photo with us? Ok, well at least with the Flame? And with that temptation the next thing we knew, Gunny, Neil and I were surrounded by the GB hockey squad holding both the Olympic torch and the Olympic Flame.
A few of the girls asked if they could hold the actual flame, or the lantern at least, including my absolute hero Helen Richardson [Walsh]. I remember giving her strict instructions to hold both the top handle and secure the bottom of the lantern as previously when I had given it to Ben Fogle at the Eden Project, he was waving it around and we were unsure how stable the flame was at the time. So sorry Helen for being so strict!! I didn’t want that flame to go out on my watch, and only a privileged few got to hold the actual Olympic lantern.
I have been lucky to continue to meet the hockey girls along their journey. And they are girls that will help anyone who is passionate about their sport. When I was at a particularly rough crossroads with hockey, Helen Richardson-Walsh provided these wise words. “If it wasn’t for people like you, who give their time, energy and passion to our sport, players like me would never have the opportunities to achieve success” that statement stays with me and will always inspire me to continue to be the best I can be. It picked me up from a dark place and saved me from somewhere I didn’t want to venture. The kindness of a stranger can be an immense gift, a re-motivation and a huge inspiration. A gift I shall always try to pay forward and pass on to everyone I coach and play with.
Supporting each match has become easier with a large number of tournaments being broadcast to watch, however the real buzz is being present, live, living the games, feeling the atmosphere and celebrating or consoling with other fans of our sport. I was there for the Bronze medal match in London, I was at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships for the highs. I was also at the Hockey Champions trophy and watching the World cup for the lows. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn!
The ultimate gift of Gold in the Rio Olympics 2016 was the reward for pain, devastation, hard work, blood, sweat and tears. The road wasn’t always easy, the road often had many pathways, but in the end, you create your own path.
It will be sad to see Kate leave the squad (I’m still keeping fingers crossed Helen will still play!) – When I was captain at Stevenage HC, having taken over the role with seven games to go, in a particularly turbulent season, deep in the relegation zone of the league, I reached out to Kate, Helen and Alex on Twitter to ask if they had any advise on how to avoid relegation. Kate’s response was simple, and is now engraved on the back of my end of season gift from the team that was saved that year.
“Play each game like it’s your first, and each second like it’s your last.” And what a last second to for you to play!
Thank you for all you have done. We love you and wish you all the best for your future, may it be coaching with me! Haha!