Olympic hockey gold medallist Kate Richardson-Walsh shares her memories and inspirations
How I first became involved in sport
My parents were both PE teachers and loved sport, so my sister Rachel and I had a go at most activities. I did a lot of gymnastics and swimming as a youngster, and when I went to my local secondary school we played hockey, netball and athletics. My PE teacher was a really enthusiastic hockey player, as was my mum, and they passed their passion on to me. I immediately fell in love with the team aspect of hockey and felt I’d found a place in which I belonged.
Growing up, there weren’t so many female athletes shown on TV on a regular basis. My role models, therefore, came around every four years when the Olympic Games were taking place. The Barcelona 1992 games were the first that I remember clearly. Sally Gunnell won gold in the 400m hurdles and the GB women’s hockey team won bronze. The pictures of those women standing proudly on that Olympic podium were just dreamlike to me as a 12-year-old girl. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, those women are amazing!’
Strangely, getting dropped from the Junior England team, aged 15, was a pivotal point in my life, and therefore inspirational in a way. I was at a crossroads in my life and I needed to make some big choices about what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go.
Although being a professional hockey player wasn’t an option when I was growing up, I decided to be the best hockey player I could, and tried to keep that mindset for the rest of my career. There have been many occasions in my sporting career where absolute devastation or failure has kick-started a new path and personal/team success.
I feel so very lucky to have been invited to attend many incredible events and functions as a result of being an international hockey player. One such occasion was an invitation to Helen and I to The Queen’s State Banquet at Buckingham Palace for the King and Queen of the Netherlands. Having never had an occasion to wear our MBE and OBE medals we were thrilled to be getting them out of the boxes!
We had ignored the advice on purchasing a smaller commemorative medal because … well, we thought we’d never wear it to be honest. So we rolled up to Buckingham Palace, driving my dirty white Kia Rio into the Buckingham Palace courtyard, wearing our enormous blingy Honours medals and (frankly) sticking out like a sore thumb.
The only thing that topped all of this was seeing the absolute horror on the faces of the King and Queen of the Netherlands when we were introduced during the evening. They couldn’t quite believe that the Royal Family had very cheekily rubbed their noses in losing out on ‘their’ Dutch hockey gold! Suffice to say, I’m not sure we’ll be invited back!
Passing The Torch by Mary Peters is available now (Gateway, £12.99)