Golden Girl

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Back in December 2012 MOOR interviewed the inspirational Kate Richardon-Walsh, following the bronze medal success of the GB women’s hockey team in that year’s Olympic Games. Four years on and we catch up with Kate after the team’s historic gold medal win at the 2016 Olympics in August.

Our 2012 interview with Kate

Many of you will have cheered along with the Duchess of Cambridge as the GB women’s hockey team won bronze in this year’s Olympics. Captain of many years, Kate Walsh had led her team to an Olympic medal in spite of having her jaw fractured in the team’s opening match of the Games against Japan. But did you know that Kate grew up right here in The Heatons?  

What are your links with The Heatons?

I lived in Heaton Moor until I was 20 years of age. I went to primary school at Tithe Barn and then to Priestnall School. My Dad still lives in the Heatons with his wife Denise.

krw1-002When you visit do you think the Heatons have changed since you lived here?

I don’t get to come up to The Heatons as much as I’d like. Over the last few years I have noticed lots of changes but it still always feels familiar when I return.

What did you like about The Heatons when you were growing up and during your teenage years?

I liked that there were some good shops and restaurants on Shaw Road and Heaton Moor Road within walking distance from where I lived. I enjoyed the parks in the Heatons and the good transport links to Stockport and Manchester.

How did you get into Hockey and when did you start?

I started playing hockey in my PE lessons at Priestnall. Although my sister and I did have small sticks which we played with whilst watching my Mum play for Didsbury Greys.

What other sports did you do at Priestnall?

I enjoyed all sports at Priestnall. I feel very lucky to have had such enthusiastic PE teachers and an array of facilities and apparatus available.

menDo you think everyone should do sports at school – even if they’re “not sporty”?

Having visited a number of schools over the last few years I have noticed that a lot of them offer such a wide variety of sport/exercise options that there really is something for everyone. As well as keeping fit and healthy I can’t say enough about the social, psychological and emotional benefits.

Part of The Olympics’ legacy is to encourage sport in young people. Do you have any tips for those who’d one day love to be standing in your shoes and dream of an Olympic medal – for hockey or another sport?

I had no idea I had the ability to be an Olympian until I was practically there! The most important things are to practice hard and take enjoyment from training hard – the only limits you have are the ones you set for yourself.

Do you think there is enough focus on women’s sport? Could you ever imagine a women’s football league or hockey league getting the same amount of coverage in the media as men’s football or cricket?

I don’t think it’s a competition, but I do think that there is a huge section of the population who would like the opportunity to watch elite women’s sport on TV. At the very least I think there could be a weekly round up show covering a wide variety of women’s sport in Great Britain.

The Duchess of Cambridge is very keen on field hockey having played a bit herself at school. Do you think this association will help to promote the sport or will it just perpetuate the “posh girls’ sport” tag – with the whole “jolly hockey sticks” thing?

I think having the Duchess of Cambridge as an ambassador for our sport is magnificent. It’s meant that hockey has been brought to a whole new audience: it’s recently featured on the front cover of many newspapers and in a number of glossy magazines. Hockey really is a sport for all and that is how I and everyone involved with the sport would like it to be perceived.

The nation was horrified when your jaw was fractured so early on in the [2012] Olympics – was it hard to find the motivation to return to play only days later? 

Not at all! When you have trained so hard for so long and you know that this is the opportunity of a lifetime to win an Olympic medal on home soil anyone would’ve done the same. The surgeon, Simon Holmes, was confident after the operation that I could play. It wasn’t easy I had to sleep upright with an ice pack tied to my face for a week and a half and liquidise all my food as I couldn’t chew. But it was most definitely worth it!

You’re clearly a very inspirational woman – are you aware of being a ‘role model’ or do you just focus on the hockey as doing your job?

I am a hockey player first and foremost and as an international player and long serving captain I absolutely must lead by example. I very much hope that by me doing a good job I inspire young girls and women to pick up a stick and give it a go.

Catching up with Kate just after The Olympics this year we asked her…

The team’s performance in Rio was spectacular and certainly had Heatons residents and fellow Priestnall students all feeling amazingly proud. Did support from those back in the UK help or add extra pressure?

I have always felt huge support from the whole of Stockport and in particular The Heatons throughout my career. The women’s hockey team decided that we would take ourselves off social media for the duration of the Olympic Games. After a few lengthy discussions we felt that our focus should be solely on the team and our roles within that as individuals. We didn’t want to be distracted by positive or negative media as both can potentially knock you off course. When we finally returned home to thousands of messages it was hugely emotional and we all felt a massive sense of pride.

How did it feel being chosen as the Team GB flag bearer for the closing ceremony?

It was an unreal honour to be chosen as flag bearer. Being a part of the most successful Team GB ever was an honour in itself but to represent every British athlete who had represented their country so valiantly was something I will remember for the rest of my life. It was also great for hockey: we know this is a chance to get hockey out to people who have perhaps never watched before. To be chosen as flag bearer really put hockey front and centre once more.

Since we spoke to you last you’ve got married – Congratulations! [Kate’s spouse is fellow team mate Helen Richardson-Walsh.] The media has made quite a lot of the fact that you and Helen are the first same-sex married couple to win an Olympic gold in the same final. Are you surprised that everyone is suddenly so interested in your relationship?

Yes! We both find it a little strange as to us it’s just normal life. However, we understand that we are very lucky to be in a place of work where everyone accepts us for who we are. We both have hugely supportive family and friends as well, which isn’t always the case for people within the LGBTQ community. One of the most special things for us has been receiving letters and messages from people in all walks of life saying that being so open about our relationship has helped them feel more comfortable in their own skin.

What are your plans for the future?

I am looking forward to the next chapter, whatever the future holds. I’m currently doing a fair bit of presenting and consulting on teamwork and leadership, using what I’ve learned from sport and transferring it to business. I’m continuing to play domestic hockey out in the Netherlands and also starting to get more involved in coaching hockey as well. Most importantly I feel a great responsibility to keep hockey on the map and front of mind all over the UK.

Get into hockey today. Find your local club or session at www.hockeynation.info.

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