The comeback opportunity lasted a matter of weeks but Alex Danson-Bennett, one of Great Britain hockey’s greatest players, has 18 years of memories to look back on after she was forced to retire from the game on Thursday.
She said: “I’ve lived my career in a way that it’s been my first priority and I’ve now come to that stage in my life where I can’t live an athlete career without being the athlete I’ve always been. I would be doing myself an injustice.”
Danson-Bennett, 34, has been suffering with long-term concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) since hitting her head against a wall in Kenya after laughing at her husband’s joke while on holiday in 2018.
Six weeks later she was taken to hospital with a suspected bleed, was violently sick and had seizures. In the aftermath, she experienced a “loss of identity”, sensitivity towards light, debilitating headaches and speech problems.
Undeterred, Danson-Bennett returned to training with the GB programme in January. But after deciding upon her future for the last two weeks, she has decided to retire. She accrued 306 international caps and scored a joint-record 115 goals.
“The challenge of returning to play following my head injury is too much, and the risk’s too high,” she said. “After a long 18 months but a fabulous 18 years in the sport, it’s the right time for me to retire.
“It has been the most incredible journey but my priorities have changed and it’s the right time. It’s been my life and I’ve loved every minute of it.
“My head injury has been life-changing, also in terms of my perspective and things that have happened within my family.”
Her triathlete sister Claire was paralysed from the stomach down after colliding with a tractor in an accident while riding her bike last summer.
The former Slough, Reading and Clifton forward will now hope to get more “people involved in the game that’s changed my life” through the self-titled hockey academy she set up. “I would love to stay involved in sport,” she added.
She will also become GB’s “No.1 supporter on the side of the pitch” as the team prepares for their Olympic defence. “I would love to go out and support them,” she said of her desire to watch Mark Hager’s side in Tokyo.
“I came back to the squad as I believed that it’s a winning team to do well in Tokyo,” said Danson, whose first cap came in August 2001 against Germany. Fifteen years later she was a gold-medal winning Olympian.
Her illustrious career will be marked at The Stoop in May when GB women play Argentina.