“ I have never opted for the easy”
An Australian brand, Ritual, supporting an Australian hockey player—it just makes sense. Hockeyroo Steph Kershaw has been a part of #teamritual for four years, travelling and competing with Hockey Australia all over the world. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. We sat down with Steph to get an insight into a tough personal year, 2019, and the devastating impact of COVID-19 in 2020.
Last year (2019) was a year I hoped would go very quickly. After completing a grueling pre-season over the 2018 Christmas holidays, I tore my second ACL on the Saturday of the first week of training. This left me utterly devastated and dejected, as I’d been through the same injury in 2016. I knew that 2019 was going to be a long, bleak grind physically and mentally to get myself back to 100%.
“When people think about rehab, they have a misconception that you get a bit of a break both physically and mentally.”
The first four months of the year I watched my teammates and friends train everyday and go away every second week for pro-league while I sat on the sidelines. I was in the gym almost every day, trying to strengthen not only my knee but the rest of my body; my hamstrings, quads, upper body and core. I knew that it was all going to play a part in helping me come back as a better athlete and hockey player, but to be completely honest, it sucked. I just wanted to play hockey and play for the Hockeyroos. It hurt so badly.
When people think about rehab, they have this misconception that you get a bit of a break, both physically and mentally. I can confirm that it’s completely the opposite. You not only have to complete your individual rehab session, you also have to attend each group session to help the team in any way you can. There were days I would arrive for training for a 7:00am start and leave my gym session at 4:00pm with my body and mind absolutely exhausted.
I was told that I could go home for part of my rehab, but I knew that would be the easy alternative. I have never opted for the easy. I knew that I had to get through the hard, painful days to play again, and the thing that made me push through was knowing that not being able to play for Australia again would be far worse than injury and rehab. With that in mind, I worked my bum off for over twelve months to be back playing with the Hockeyroos in 2020.
Although the physical demands were tough, the hardest part for me was the fact that I was training every day, knowing I was so far off playing hockey again. During my rehab stint I put a lot of focus into the mental side of being an elite athlete. I had to overcome the worry that I would re-injure myself and instead create a mind-frame where I trusted my body and its ability. This work is so undervalued, and it isn’t visible to anyone bar yourself, but I believe the work I did from a mental perspective was one of the key aspects that helped me smash my rehab milestones and get back to 100%.
After all of the boring, behind-the-scenes work, I was selected to play the first game of 2020 with the Hockeyroos in Sydney. I was ecstatic with the news, but I also felt a sense of relief and pride that I had achieved my year-long goal.
“The hockey world was turned upside down”
The first month of 2020 was great. The Hockeyroos were training well as a group, improving in some areas and continuing to develop in others. We were all hitting PBs on the physical side of things and our first couple of pro-league games showed signs that the team was on the right track.
Personally, I was training well and beginning to hit my form again, and then something happened that no one was prepared for.
Enter the coronavirus. A previously unthinkable situation that put a halt to not only international hockey, but club hockey, all hockey and ordinary life—all over the world. Around the globe, we began seeing unfathomable repercussions, the tragic loss of life, as well as the loss of livelihoods.
Sport was also affected. In the space of three days, the Hockey Australia program was shut down, the Australian Olympic Committee pulled the Australian team out of the 2020 Olympics, and then the Olympics themselves were postponed to an unknown date. The hockey world was turned upside down.
People had expected 2020 to be a great year for our sport. To have hockey come to a complete stop was jarring. Everyone was speculating that the Olympics might be cancelled altogether, which would have been the worst outcome for athletes. We had been preparing for the last four years for this one event. The idea that our preparation might come to nothing was heartbreaking.
Luckily, only a couple of days later the new dates for the Tokyo Olympics were released and everyone breathed a sigh of relief—the dream was still alive. Now the challenge is two-fold: mentally bracing for an extra twelve months and preparing to reach our peak in a world that has changed dramatically.
Although the goal of Olympic success is still the same, training these days looks a little different and a little lonelier. We (the Hockeyroos) have gone from training together on the pitch to running solo, and our strength sessions have gone from the lucky situation of having a gym with endless equipment to finding whatever weights we can to use in our garages.
As an Australian, I’m very lucky that there is so much open space, beautiful parks, beaches and trails that I can use for my running sessions. I’m still able to have a quick dip in the ocean and grab a coffee to take-away without breaking social distancing regulations. But more often than not, Netflix and university at home is where I have been spending most of my time. These are strange and difficult times for everyone but knowing that staying at home is saving lives makes it a little easier to accept and enjoy my newfound slow-paced living. It’s making me even more excited and determined for 2021 and what’s to come from a hockey perspective.
So, here’s to getting through this pandemic together and a big year to come in 2021!
Steph Kershaw, 2020