Alex Danson, 27, is a member of the Team GB hockey team and a mentor for the Youth Sport Trust. She lives in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, with three of her teammates
Living with three other people who play hockey is handy. When our alarms go off at 6.30am, we all rally each other to get out of bed. Before the Olympics, I had visions of winning a medal on home turf to motivate me. Now, after we finally won bronze at London 2012 in August, it’s the prospect of first place at the World Series in 2013 that gets me up.
I live really close to my training venue and spend three days a week in full-time intensive training. Not that I ever really have a day off. In fact, even on the days when things are a bit ‘gentler’, the very first thing I do is grab a bowl of porridge and head to a weights session at the gym. It’s vital that I keep my body properly fuelled, so I’ll have a second breakfast of a protein shake with fruit or a bowl of cereal when I get back to the house. As an elite athlete, it’s important for me to watch what I eat. This, along with a rigorous training programme, means my body shape can change dramatically when I’m in intense training and I’ll become much leaner and stronger. Sometimes it hurts so much that you come home almost unable to walk, but it’s surprising how quickly the body adjusts to intensive training (six days a week).
As a mentor for the Youth Sport Trust (YST) – a charity which supports the education and development of young people through sport – I do a lot of school visits. So every Wednesday and Friday, I’ll drive to one of the hundreds of schools that are involved. At the moment I’m part of the YST’s Sky Sports Living For Sport initiative, so I’ll get to the school between 8am and 9am and will take an assembly before spending the morning running workshops and practical sessions with the students.
“I was turned away from the England hockey trials. I was devastated”
People are always asking to see my Team GB kit and medal, and I’m more than happy to oblige. In fact, I get so many requests, I tend to just carry it round with me now. With school visits, I’m there to hopefully inspire, engage and motivate students, so I tell them a couple of stories about my own sporting career. Like the time when, at the age of 16, I was turned away from the England hockey trials having given a poor performance in the bleep test and the practical session. I was devastated; all I’d ever wanted to do was play hockey and I felt like I’d blown it, but the coach gave me six weeks to go away, re-train and come back. I trained every day, got myself really fit, and eventually got 14.2 on the bleep test [that’s higher than the entrance level for the UK Royal Marines]. That moment taught me that it’s not always the most talented people who are the most successful, it’s the ones who work the hardest.
I used to think Olympians were infallible, so I’ll also tell them about the World Cup in 2006, where I missed an open goal. It meant we didn’t make the semi-finals and ended up finishing seventh. I felt like a complete failure and that I’d let everyone down, but I’ve since learned that if you give up when you go wrong, doors will close and you’ll end up missing some amazing opportunities.
If I’m in training, I’ll bring my own lunch (a sandwich or couscous), but if not I’ll have a school dinner with the students; the food is much better now than when I was in education!
The visit will finish at about 3.30pm, then I’ll drive to Bisham Abbey (the national sports centre where I train with the Team GB hockey team), for an evening hockey or running session.
I’ve never let being a woman hold me back and it’s important for people to realise how hard you train, regardless of whether you’re male, female, a marathon runner or a lawn bowls player. I definitely support Stylist’s Fair Game For Women In Sport campaign. I’m lucky because my sport is very equal. We’re funded by one governing body and everything is chopped down the middle.
After training, my housemates and I will make dinner together – an egg-based meal like an omelette or stir fry vegetables; I’ll watch an hour of TV (or my trusted Friends box set), and head to bed at about 10pm, hoping for a decent eight hours’ sleep to set me up for the day ahead.”