Two Durham University hockey players – current third year Castle Geography student Tess Howard and alumnus Jack Waller – participated in qualifying both the men’s and women’s Great Britain teams for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Speaking to Palatinate, Howard noted the “huge amount of pressure” placed on the squad to perform – both to secure qualification and to exhibit world-class hockey in front of a home crowd.
Only taking place every four years, the qualification rounds are make or break for those teams wishing to travel to Japan and pursue a highly sought-after gold medal.
Although she is “one of the youngest players on record” to play for the Great Britain squad, Howard considers this factor irrelevant once on the pitch, with everyone in the team “fighting as hard as they can” to seal quality performances.
The Castle student, however, reflected on her “youthful passion” as easily identifiable in her performances, bringing an added level of energy to training sessions and competition.
She is one of the youngest players on record to play for Great Britain
For Howard, it is “a privilege to be so young in the team”, competing alongside women who were once – and still are – her “role models”, having been 17 when she watched the girls win gold in Rio. She still often rewatches the highlights from the tournament for inspiration and insight into what pure fight and determination to win look like.
She remembers arriving at the Olympic Park in 2012 and going “on a quest” to find the Olympic rings, stating that “they have terrified [her] since” but now she tries to “look them in the eye and say ‘I’m coming for you’”.
They say there are four elements of your life: your passion, your profession, your vocation and your mission. When all four combine, you find your purpose. For Howard, hockey “ticks all the boxes” and she “finds it hard not to smile” when she thinks of hockey as her profession. Whilst it is “surreal when you step out to perform in front of your home crowd”, this is now her day-to-day life.
As a 21-year-old, however, Howard realises the sacrifices she has made with regards to her “Durham life”. She was required to transfer clubs from DUHC to East Grinstead, a ridiculously hard transition for a young athlete to undergo due to loyalties as well as attachment to friends and teammates acquired at the University.
Whilst the third year student can technically still perform for the University within BUCS competitions, the travel and commitment within the Great Britain set-up “make it very hard” for her to spend time in Durham, with the toughest part of relocating south not being the self-studying, but the lack of socialising.
Her statement of “dearly missing Boat House Wednesdays” will ring true with any of DUWHC’s current squad or alumni.
Looking ahead, Howard is aware that she “only had one chance to play international hockey”. Howard hopes to play a large part in creating history for British and English hockey alongside her teammates over the next 10 years.
Howard hopes to play a large part in creating history
Part of the role of being a Great Britain athlete is also teaching and educating the next generation in the ways of hockey, team sport and performance. Howard often coaches younger players, returning to her old school or various hockey clubs to encourage a continued love for the game and inspire others to strive for success.
She promised herself that she would only play if she continued to love the game. As experienced by all involved in elite performance, Howard is certain that there will be very hard times ahead, as she found out when she fractured her hand in August and was unable to perform in the bronze medal game of the European tournament.
It was only nine weeks later, however, that she achieved a full recovery and played a significant role in helping her squad qualify for the Olympics.
Ultimately, for Howard, “these moments are indescribable and addictive”, constructing an adrenaline high which enforces determination to compete to one’s best ability at all times. These moments do come to an end, however, and sometimes things in life occur out of your own control.
This is why she has chosen to prepare for the next chapter in her life by pursuing environmental and social law within postgraduate studies – assuming the initial degree is sealed down first.
Howard states how “incredibly grateful” she is for all the support from Team Durham, the Geography department and DUHC, especially the aid and coaching of Gareth Weaver-Tyler, head of Performance Hockey. “Without their belief and trust, I wouldn’t be able to chase the dream”.
As with Tess’s famous words of self-motivation, encouragement and ambition – keep visualising. “Be confident” that the scenarios playing out in your head come to fruition and, crucially, enjoy what you do.
Recent graduate Jack Waller, meanwhile, has made himself a mainstay in the Great Britain men’s hockey sqaud since his arrival from the England Development Program.
Now holding 22 Great Britain caps to his name and having played for the junior England teams prior to his U21 performances, Waller remains within the defensive line on the pitch, a solid appearance from one of the more youthful players.
Jack Waller has made himself a mainstay in the Great Britain men’s hockey squad
Great Britain men sealed their place at the Olympics with a 5-2 win against Malaysia, with a hat-trick from Forsyth and a double from Ward. Waller saw himself begin the game in the starting line-up, putting in a fine performance as Great Britain overcame the opposition in style.
With Waller previously participating in the Sultan of Johor Cup in 2017 alongside current student and Great Britain U21 Ollie Payne, and Tess Howard performing alongside current England Development Program and DUWHC 1st team players Louisa Bray and Fiona Crackles, Durham University Hockey Club can claim a hand in contributing to the success of their past, current and future stars.
Image of Tess Howard by Kent Sport Images