London, September 11, 2012
As soon as the hockey stick had crashed into her face, Kate Walsh was certain her Olympics were over.
Captain of the TeamGB women’s team, it was her first game of the tournament. And as she sat on the now famous, fluorescent blue and pink pitch in east London, she couldn’t believe her Olympic dream was likely over almost as soon as it had begun.
“I’ve been hit like that twice… and I knew straight away it was bad.
“I thought straight away my Games were over,” she tells us, a little over a month after that day early on in the London 2012 Olympics.
But now, the scars still healing, not only does she have the plaster cast of her jaw in fractured state, but a bronze medal to show for her part in the victory.
She missed just two matches following the injury scare.
“I can’t remember actually feeling any pain in my jaw; it was just the pain of ‘Oh my God, this is really it!’”
The first surgeons to inspect Kate’s injury initially agreed with her too. But once the first operations had taken place there was a positive turn around in opinion.
Remarkably, and despite having metal plates inserted into her jaw by this point, the lead surgeon, Kate tells us, said she was fine to play.
She told us: “He said he’d done his job, now I had to do mine. That gave me the confidence just to go for it.”
But playing at a level where even the tiniest changes in preparation can mean the difference between winning and losing, how did this experience affect her performance?
“Having missed a couple of games, it becomes tricky. You never know if you’re going to regain the form you had before or whether you might not go into tackles the way you did before.
“But I ended up playing some of my best hockey when I was under the most pressure, and the most traumatic of times.”
But it is the fact that she played so well that is now providing the long-time captain of her team a real dilemma: whether to carry on for another shot at gold at the next Games in Rio, 2016, or to move away from the trials and rigours of full-time hockey.
She told us: “I think I change my mind every single day. It’s tough. When you’ve given so much of your life to something and that’s all you’ve known, it’s hard to turn your back on it.
“If I’d struggled or not played my best that would have made the choice easier, but I played some of my best hockey, and that makes it harder.”
But, for now at least, Kate is taking her time with the decision and is enjoying having come away from her home Games with a medal, something she isn’t letting out of her sight for the time being.
“I’m keeping it on my bedside table at the moment,” she reveals.
The success of the London Games, however, has not been down to medals alone. And Kate has already sensed the inspiration that the summer of sport has left in the UK capital.
“We’ve had the opportunity to go into schools and clubs from Manchester to Birmingham, London even into Wales. The support and interest has been fantastic and we are keen to help build on this through our sport.”
And it remains her hope that the benefit of sport this summer from the London Games can go on to deliver a lasting legacy for both the city and the country at large.
She said: “I hope lots of opportunities are made available, especially for young people. I also hope the Olympic park doesn’t become a ghost town in London and that it thrives, that jobs become available and arenas get used again.”
But what about that other trophy she has from the London Games: the cast of her jaw?
“It’s got pride of place on my bookshelf. I’m going to spray it bronze I think. The only problem is when they made the mould my face was really swollen, so it looks like I’m really sad.
“But it’s a nice thing to have, to help tell the story of what I went through.”
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