By James Reid
For most people, the Olympics represents a couple of weeks sat on the sofa watching the world’s finest athletes going head-to-head. Perhaps it’ll even inspire you to take up a new sport.
For Durham student Fiona Crackles, however, the Olympics are a very different proposition altogether. The 21-year-old has recently been called up to the full-time training programme for Great Britain’s women’s senior squad as they prepare for this summer’s Games in Tokyo.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for the Collingwood student, who only made her debut for Great Britain in October last year, amassing four caps against Belgium and the Netherlands.
“I did not expect to get asked to join the senior squad full-time”, Crackles told Palatinate. “It was an amazing experience playing at that level but I really had no idea anything would come from it.”
The call-up means that Crackles has swapped Maiden Castle and the Billy B for training alongside Olympic gold medal winners such as Lily Owsley and Laura Unsworth.
“Training full-time is hard and draining but very rewarding”, says Crackles, who has split her year in order to commit to the full-time programme. “My first session was scary but fortunately I had a few experiences of training with the girls prior to my first official training as a senior squad member.”
The defender joins a squad that will be looking to replicate the success of nearly five years ago when the women’s side took gold in Rio, but Crackles is not fazed by the prospect.
“We hope to create our own history instead of living in the shadows of the amazing success of the previous team at the last Olympics. As a team we are obviously striving for gold.”
Joining the full-time programme is the latest achievement on a journey that started aged seven at Kirkby Lonsdale Hockey Club, where both of her brothers played and her mum umpired.
“It was a brilliant little club with just the best volunteer coaches and parents keeping it running.” The North West would eventually be swapped for the North East, as Crackles joined Durham’s renowned hockey programme in 2019, something she gives great credit to.
“Durham has been an unreal opportunity to play very high level hockey but also excel in my studies. The coaching and extra support staff is phenomenal and certain had me in the best condition to join the central senior programme.”
It’s not just on the pitch that Durham has helped Crackles either. “DUHC as a club has been a home to me. Socially my best friends are there, physically I believe we work harder than any other team in our league and psychologically the support and care it offers is second to none.”
Such support is important as Crackles tries to balance hockey with studying for a degree in Sport and Exercise Science, but it is something that is embraced. “Balancing sport and academics is hard of course but I find they act as a distraction for each other. You can escape getting bogged down in online teaching and it can also help stop you overthinking hockey”
It is still unclear whether the games in Tokyo will actually take place, but for now Crackles is focused on “training hard as I can and staying injury free” and simply embracing everything that comes her way. “I am feeling so lucky to be training every day in these current circumstances so I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and aim to have no regrets with the effort I put in.”
Whatever happens this summer, it has certainly been quite the journey already for a player who clearly has a big future in the game. From Kirkby Lonsdale to Tokyo, Crackles is looking to complete a journey traversed by few and is hoping to inspire others along the way.
“Hopefully we can continue to inspire future hockey players and show the nation how brilliant hockey is as a sport.” Crackles’ success should inspire us all at the very least to tune in and hopefully cheer on one of Durham’s own at the Games this summer.
Image: Fiona Crackles