Saturday, December 4, 2021

‘Resilience’: East Grinstead forward’s 21-year rise to the first team

Autumn Bowden has been diagnosed with PCOS and changed her lifestyle to fulfill her dream of playing elite hockey

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Rod Gilmour
The Hockey Paper's Editor. First covered international hockey at the 2010 Commonwealth Games - no better than a full house watching India play England - and has reported for the Daily Telegraph and other major newspapers ever since. Co-founded THP in 2016.

It was after her 21st birthday that long-time East Grinstead member Autumn Bowden knew she had to change her lifestyle. She admits that was “overweight and unhappy”. As Bowden says: “I couldn’t continue leading the life I was in as it was so unhealthy.”

This season, after joining the club as a six-year-old, nearly nine years playing for East Grinstead 2s and losing six stone, Bowden made her first team debut in the Vitality Women’s Premier Division. 

“Putting on that shirt after being a junior and into my 21st season at the club was amazing,” she tells The Hockey Paper.

“After the years of hard work and putting the grind in it’s been great to get the reward of being in that squad. This is such a great family-orientated club.”

There’s more. In her debut game, which came at home against Loughborough in September, Bowden also scored her first goal. “I was shocked that I scored,” she readily admits. “For me, hearing the crowd and finally being in the team where I deserve to be was amazing.

“I went into the game not expecting anything. I started the game, which was also a shock, and to score at the home end, the messages I received afterwards left me with a permanent smile all weekend.

“It was daunting going into the squad, I won’t lie, but there are some great players and I feel part of the team.”

Once Bowden progressed through the juniors, the forward transitioned to the Women’s 2s in the Sussex Premier Division before her breakthrough month.

Given her lengthy status at the West Sussex club, she has naturally gravitated towards watching home games and travelling to away fixtures if there was a double header on offer with the men’s team. She even took over The Hockey Paper‘s Instagram when EG reached the national indoor finals in 2019. Bowden, it seems, is the ultimate one-club player.

“I knew I had the hockey ability to play,” adds Bowden, who turned 27 last weekend. “I played football at a high level [Chelsea and Brighton] and I had the sporting game and knowledge in me but I didn’t have the fitness side whatsoever which is crucial in hockey.”

Life in the 2s took on a different complexion when she took up PT sessions to lose weight before moving on to another trainer to take her to the next level. After losing six stone over the next few years, she felt confident enough to sign up for the London Marathon and completed it in 2019 alongside her brother and sister. “I am the fittest I have ever been but I still have some way to go,” she says.

Bowden also suffers from PCOS, a hormonal disorder fairly common in women, and was diagnosed by doctors in July 202. She says that she was effectively told that it was hard to lose weight with the condition and that “the matter was in my own hands”.

“But after referrals and medication it was a huge weight off my shoulders finding the reason why,” she says.

After upping her training in January during lockdown, she received a call from head coach Mary Booth to attend training. “She didn’t quite have the skill as a kid but her story is one of persistence and resilience,” says Booth.

Bowden, who coaches juniors at the club, as well as being a personal trainer and an early years football coach, has also experienced European club competition in Lille this season, giving her extra confidence as she has bedded into the squad.

Autumn Bowden in action PIC: UK Hockey Photos

“My name and nerves go really well,” smiles Bowden. “I’m nervous every week regardless of the game but Europe was a great learning curve.”

However, it hasn’t always been plain sailing in her debut season in the Premier Division. She wasn’t selected for a recent 1s game which gave her “extra fire in her belly and to try and prove a point as to why I should be in the squad.”

She duly bounced back. “We have a large squad but to get picked again against Wimbledon and score was great,” she says.

And now, as the season has taken shape, a few of Bowden’s close friends have asked her whether she finally believes she should be in the team, as they rest of them do. “For a few weeks I’ve been saying no, but for the first time I now believe I should be there,” she adds. “I think my friends are relieved that I’ve given them the response they were wanting!”

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