I am a strong and athletic woman, which for some reason gives people the right to cast their stereotypical judgements as I walk down the street. They don’t know me, what I do or how hard I work. I am world class. I am an Olympian. If I come across as arrogant, you have mistaken me. I am just resilient, hard working, respectful and damn right driven.
I have played hockey for England and Great Britain since the age of 19. I’m now 31 and preparing for my second Olympic Games in Rio next year. Playing hockey is my full-time occupation. In 2009 hockey received funding from UK Sport to support 31 female players full-time in the build up to London 2012 and later Investec came on board as our sponsors. When the announcement of a full-time programme was made, I was 24 years old, a qualified doctor in Exercise Physiology and gearing myself up for a life in academia. In the same week I was applying for my first lecturing job, I received a call from the Great Britain coach asking if I would accept a contract to join the newly formed full-time Great Britain programme. There was no decision to be made. This would only ever be one opportunity to see if I was good enough to be part of a team that would challenge for Olympic glory. You just can’t walk away from that.
If I look back and try and figure out how on earth I have got to where I am now, I would probably admit I’m not very normal. I was quiet and unassuming as a child. Nothing special or out of the ordinary but I had a drive and steely determination to achieve. I didn’t fit into any of the typical groups in the playground – the cool gang, the geeks, or the rebels. I just wanted to play sport and play it better every day. Hockey wasn’t my first love. Football was but girls weren’t allowed to play at my school. At the age of 14, my PE teacher encouraged me to join a hockey club and I finally found a place where I fit in. In a sports team, judgments move away from how popular you are and what you look like to how hard you are willing to work and how much you contribute. I felt I had finally found my ‘gang’ and found a supportive environment where I could be me and develop confidence and self-worth.
I sometimes wonder what might have been had I taken the lecturing job. I suspect my parents think the same. However, sport is like a drug. It conjures up emotions I can’t imagine many people experienced during their day job. I am not afraid to admit I have been to some dark places. I’m mentally strong. I have to be to get to where I am but I’m not indestructible. But my word the highs are incredible and live long after the moment has gone. I have shared some experiences like no other, and even now, they bring a tear of joy to my eye as I recall them. In 2012, I sat in the changing room before the Bronze medal match. As we waited for the coach to come in and deliver his final team talk, I looked around the room and into the eyes of my team mates. Days, weeks, months, years of hard work reflected back. I wish I could articulate how incredible that moment was – absolute, unwavering respect and faith in one another. We would have beaten any team that day. It was that moment I knew we would go and win Olympic Bronze that day. It is that moment that drives me forward. I hope one day to find another team that makes me feel like that again. I fear it may never come in the day job that awaits me when I finally retire from sport.
Life in elite sport is brutal. Everyday we are judged on our performances. Everyday, someone is trying to get selected ahead of you. My body hurts when I wake up in the morning. There are times when I am so tired, I can’t even follow the plot line of Eastenders. We don’t get days off, we miss family weddings, holidays and graduations. A large part of life is on hold. But who really wants to be normal? Sure, I’m well behind on the accumulation of partners I’ve had over the years, my LinkedIn page has significant gaps in the employment section, my Facebook profile is not filled with pictures of my children. All I want is to be the best in the world at what I do. I want to be able to say I helped inspire women and girls to play sport, be confident and be the best they can be because it is that which makes life truly fulfilling. There is always more than one way to live your life. I choose this way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah MacLeod is a 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist and has amassed over 120 international caps, winning a medal at every major competition, since making her debut in 2004. Prior to becoming full-time in 2009, Hannah completed a PhD in Exercise Physiology and continues to work part-time as a performance nutritionist. She is the co-founder of A Word On Nutrition, a nutrition consultancy business.
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