"The Highs and Lows Were Represented in That Medal" | A Q&A with Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh

21 November 2017

Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh made history as the first married gay couple to win a Gold Olympic Medal for Team GB as they scored in Rio 2016 on the hockey pitch. They shared with us their inspirational story that charts their rise from the depths of finishing 11th in the 2014 World Cup to winning Gold in Rio 2016. Helen and Kate also let us in on how they stayed motivated when times were tough and the values their team shared, which they credit for creating a winners mindset.

When did you first get into playing hockey?

Kate: I started playing hockey when I was 12 years old (just a little bit older than you, Helen). Just when I went to my PE lessons at school, it was one of the sports on offer, and I just took to it immediately. I had swam before, and I had done gymnastics, but they were just individual sports, and I loved being part of the team, I loved the camaraderie we shared with girls who you maybe wouldn’t even be friends with or look at in the normal school day, and it was just all going towards that win together that really excited me.

"I loved the camaraderie we shared with girls who you maybe wouldn’t even be friends with"

Helen: I really loved the team aspect of hockey in school, it had so many different facets to it, I really liked the skill element and the fact it is a team game. I joined a club when I was seven, but it was actually a men’s club at the time and I was the only girl, but now they have 5 women’s teams, so it is really nice to look back on that and know that I was a part of starting that.

How did you stay committed and motivated when times were tough?

Kate: My local national league club was an hour and 45 minutes away, so my Dad had to drive myself and my sister over there, twice a week, sit in the car and wait for us and then come back. Around that, you have to fit in all your school work and study, but you just manage, everyone manages. I think it was just about being organised with my time, probably saying no to a lot of stuff I wanted to do. But in Team GB, we speak a lot about making good choices, not necessarily sacrifices. It is just about saying ‘I want to do this, so I have to do that.’

Helen: I think for me, I remember I used to have to have quite good relationships and conversations with my teachers, but that was something that I had to learn to do, it didn’t really come naturally. It was a good learning process for me that relationships and communication are really important. If you communicate well with your teachers about what you’ve got coming up and where your deadlines are, things always work out better for everyone. I remember having a conversation with one of my English teachers when I was near the Olympic squad, and she said, “If you had a choice between doing your A-Levels and going to the Olympics, what would you do?” Well of course I said I would go to the Olympics, because I saw study as something that you could do at any point, so sport was the thing that I just loved doing.

"If you communicate well with your teachers about what you’ve got coming up and where your deadlines are, things always work out better for everyone."

Can you tell us a bit about how you went from finishing 11th in the World Cup in 2014, to winning the Olympic Gold medal in Rio in 2016?

Helen: 2014 was a difficult year for the squad as a whole, we went to the World Cup with such high expectations, we’d got the Bronze medal in London as the GB team and we’d won the Bronze medal at the last world cup, so there was an expectation for us to be on the podium, but we weren’t. We had the worst tournament, we finished 11th, so we were playing off for last place. But, we changed it around by deciding as a group what we actually wanted to be, who we wanted to be, both to ourselves and the outside. We had some very honest and open discussions, we got everything out on the table, and we came up with a brand new vision that would inspire us to move forward to Rio.

This was:

  • Be the Difference
  • Create History
  • Inspire the Future

Underneath this, we had our values, which we thought were going to get the best out of us every single day and help us to win the Gold in Rio. Those values were:

  • We are Winners
  • Be Alive
  • We are One Team

Kate: Culture is the key, in the moments when we've had really good vision, and we’re collectively moving in the same direction you see that everyone is functioning on a really strong level, they are getting the best out of themselves first and foremost but for the good of the team. It is that selfless nature and behaviour that we see time and time again from our teammates towards that vision that is such a special thing to be a part of.

What did it feel like to win the Gold medal?

Kate: To finally stand on that podium, when I close my eyes and think about it, I still get emotional. Standing there and looking down at that medal hanging around your neck, it felt like every moment we’d been through to get to that point, all of the highs and the lows, were represented in that medal.

Helen: We questioned, why are we doing this? Why are we putting ourselves through this? Will we ever make it? For so many of those years, winning an Olympic Gold medal was a distant fantasy, but we got closer and closer and closer, so to finally achieve it was just incredible.

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