Nicola’s Signature Article: From my dream to reality

It sounds a very long time but it all seemed to be a gradual progression for me, on an amazing journey to Olympic gold. But what triggered those early thoughts on wanting to be an Olympian? Was it something subconsciously i planted in there, that drove my enthusiasm for sport from an early age?

Looking back, I do have one memory, which has stuck with me, as I met with Jonathan Edwards at the age of 18 when myself and David Whaley from the Oldham Chronicle, ambushed him into showing me his medals while he was on a visit to Oldham, but the others I want to tell you about, I don’t remember at all and it is my mum’s recollection of two events that happened which could have been the triggers that drove my passion of hockey and success.

I was 8 years old. Sat cross legged in front of the television. My mum said I was glued to the screen because the gymnastics were on. It was the Atlanta 1996 Olympic games. There wasn’t a hockey game in sight, but i was memorised by what i saw. After a while, i asked my mum ‘what are they doing’?. It had then moved on to a medal ceremony. She explained about the huge event and how talented you had to be in your sport, not only to get to an Olympics but to win a medal. I had apparently watched endless sports over those two weeks in silence and amazement. After watching the ceremony, I got to my feet and started to make my way up the stairs with a comment to mum “I’m going to win one of those one day” and carried on running up the stairs, probably not even thinking what i had just said. My mum replied with some encouragement “I hope you do, darling, I hope you do”.

At this time, I had started to play hockey at school. As i progressed to the next level and played for county, it had been decided one year, that there would be a presentation evening to be held at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Two hockey stars would come along to share their story and present our certificates to us. I was 12 at this point. Tina Cullen and Martyn Grimley sat centre stage in the room. I was in awe of them both. This was my first meeting with two hockey legends, although it’s only now, looking back i realise how big they were in the game. After the presentation we had the opportunity to get their autographs, speak with them and look at Martin’s Olympic gold medal which he had won with the GB men’s squad in Seoul 1988, coincidentally, the year I was born. I had to wait my turn in the queue to see them both, but as i approached my mum said i went very shy and quiet. After getting their autographs, I got the chance to see Martyn’s gold medal in its box. I couldn’t take my eyes off it and stood glaring at it in silence. I was there for quite a while. He had kept it in the box all night, with the other girls just looking at the medal in passing, but I wonder what he must have sensed from me to ask, did i want to hold the medal? He gently lifted it from the box and placed it in my hand. My mum has always said, my face was a picture of sheer bewilderment and amazement and once we had left for home, I couldn’t stop smiling. I still to this day have the certificate that they both signed. I see Tina on a regular basis when our paths cross in club hockey and I had the pleasure of meeting Martyn again after Rio 2016, when we both compared our medals and I told him of our meeting when i was 12.

So was it these encounters that subconsciously helped or encouraged me to succeed in sport or maybe even being born the same year as a previous hockey gold medal had been won? I suppose we will never know but they are great memories that mum and I can reminisce over. It is incredible to think back to that 8 year old little girl, sat in front of the TV, loving every minute of the Olympic spectacle and the innocence of where my dream potentially started.

Fast forward 20 years, to August 2016, where I was a part of the GB women hockey squad that made history and who knows……… Maybe there were some 8 years old sat watching that game that may well follow in my footsteps!