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 19 medals including an Olympic bronze at London 2012, the European Championship title in 2015, World Cup bronze and Commonwealth silver, 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. At the age of just 22, Helen’s career was threatened when she needed 3 rounds of surgery on her ankle, consultants warned that it was unlikely she would ever play competitive hockey again. After a two year absence, she defied the odds and returned to the field of play. After glory at London 2012 however, Helen’s also suffered a ruptured disc in her back, requiring two rounds of back surgery within 11 months. Unable to return in time for the World Cup in 2014, Helen 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.
Consistently showing significant psychological and physical strength throughout her career, she managed to return to the team after the low of the World Cup and 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 continues to play at club level for Cambridge City and coach at a variety of schools and clubs. Alongside this she continues to study psychology, inspired by her experience in battling back from the doubts of her injury, and her experience of elite performance and winning teams. In the 2017 New Year Honours Helen was awarded an MBE for services to hockey.