Ahead of Great Britain women’s Olympic qualifying matches in 2019, THP spoke to Tess Howard about playing through pain after a rollercoaster start to her career.
During England’s heavy defeat at the hands of the Dutch at the 2019 EuroHockey Champs, Tess Howard went into a second quarter block tackle with her left hand. The ball avoided the glove and broke her bone inwards.
Not that Howard knew it at the time. Sure, there was pain but she simply didn’t want to let anyone down and effectively played on for over half the game with a broken hand.
“I couldn’t leave my team-mates out there fighting in that game one man down,” she said.
“I was delirious with the pain and they realised it was something worse than a bruise. I had an X-ray the next day and was put in plaster. I was high on adrenaline; there was anger and fuel inside me. I neglected the fact that I was probably not okay so I kept going.”
Howard had to watch with her arm in a sling as England finished outside the medals. On her return to the UK she took herself off to Norway for a few days to clear the mind and then there was surgery.
During the India Test matches, she received the good news from a surgeon that she could return to the pitch. “I live and breathe hockey and when it’s taken away from me you don’t know what to do,” she says.
For the first two domestic games of the season, Howard was an eager touchline presence at her new club East Grinstead.
But back to those recollections of a sultry early evening in Antwerp, during England’s record 8-0 defeat to Holland. “I don’t remember the details but I remember the feeling,” she admits. “It serves us even more fuel to get better and the next time we face them.
“The way we played wasn’t indicative of the way we can play. The Dutch were on fire and I’m a great believer you have to credit brilliant hockey when you see it. Some of the open play field goals … you have to appreciate and it can inspire you to play like that.”
“I try to live by the theory that you get to decide when a story’s finished. A disappointment can either be the end of your story or it can be just a page in your story.”
It was quite a chapter in Belgium. And watching that bronze-medal match in the shoot-out loss against Spain, Howard decided then that it wasn’t going to be the end of her story. “It was just a chapter and you turn the page and start again. The more disappointments you have in your story, the more interesting it is when you turn it around.”
Turning her attention to the Chile matches, Howard admits that training has “never been harder” for the GB squad.
“Our mental preparation has been stellar and it has to be,” she adds. “It’s not us fighting for two games, it’s much bigger. There’s a lot riding on it but it is just two hockey games.
“I’ve no doubt that we will win, but impress our crowd. The underdog can always win, that’s why we play sport. But we’re doing everything we can in our power to be the best we can for these two games.”
This article was first published in print in 2019 and adapted for online in April 2021 to reflect Tess Howard’s ACL injury news
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