Midfield maestro Helen is one of the most experienced members of the GB women’s team. Having started her international career in 1999 at the age of 17, she became the youngest ever woman to represent GB hockey at an Olympics in Sydney the following year, and has gone on to compete at four Olympic Games.
As part of the senior leadership group she played a central role in propelling the women’s game to victory on the world stage in Rio 2016. As she stepped on to the podium alongside her team mate and wife, GB captain Kate Richardson-Walsh, they also entered Olympic history as the first same sex married couple to win an Olympic medal playing for the same team.
Over the course of her 17 year international career Helen has amassed a Commonwealth bronze and two silvers, a bronze at London 2012, and the European Championship title in 2015, before finally reaching the pinnacle of her sport as part of the celebrated GB hockey team that beat the Netherlands in Rio to win her gold medal. Helen was one of only two players to score during a tense penalty shootout and is recognised at world level as one of the best in the business – shortlisted for the World Player of the Year Award and named in the FIH World All Stars Team three times.
This success however has not always been assured. After glory at London 2012 Helen’s career was threatened at the age of just 23 after she suffered two ruptured discs in her back within 11 months. With two rounds of back surgery, compounded by 3 rounds of surgery on her ankle, consultants warned that it was unlikely she would ever play competitive hockey again. Forced to spend two years out of the game she missed the World Cup in 2014, and had to watch from home as her wife and team mates stumbled to a lowly 11th place. Their performance only compounded the feeling that she had lost the chance to achieve a goal that she had dedicated her life to and worked incredibly hard towards for the past fifteen years. Under intense pressure Helen underwent periods of depression as she started to question her self-identity, life choices and ability to achieve her goals.
Showing significant psychological and physical strength however she managed to return to the team after a two year absence and since the low of the World Cup has played an instrumental part of a leadership turn around at GB women’s hockey. Alongside Head Coach Danny Kerry and a close knit team of senior players they put in place team values and processes to create a winning culture within the squad. Central to this was working as a team to identify the key behaviours that they had to live and breathe every single day, and creating an environment that encouraged respect and support for each other, even while they were battling for selection. ‘Be the Difference, Create History and Inspire the Future’ was their team mantra, and in winning gold in Rio she feels immense pride that they have done just that.
Today, years on from her first Olympic Games, and having stepped down from international duty with almost 300 caps, Helen has been awarded an MBE for services to hockey and continues to play at club level in UK. She also acts as ambassador for UN Women, Access Sport, an Athlete Role Model for the Youth Olympic Games and sits on the Education and Development committees of the European Hockey Federation. Alongside this she has completed a degree in psychology, inspired by her experience in battling back from the doubts of her injury, and her experience of elite performance and winning teams. Most recently she has embarked on a master’s degree in Organisational Psychology.
Image copyright: Image © Helen Richardson-Walsh
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