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Hockey player Grace Balsdon: from Chilham to the Athletics World Cup

PUBLISHED: 13:17 08 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:17 08 May 2018

Kent hockey player Grace Balsdon (photo: Rebekah Taylor)

Kent hockey player Grace Balsdon (photo: Rebekah Taylor)

© 2017 Rebekah Taylor

Kent hockey player Grace Balsdon on playing for England at July’s Athletics World Cup, growing up in Chilham and healthy food swaps

Tell us about you

I’m Grace Balsdon, 25, and I grew up in the picturesque village of Chilham, where my parents still live. I am frequently down there as I play my club hockey for Canterbury Hockey club in the Investec Premier League and go home each time I play a home game and for weeks when I don’t have GB Centralised training.

My Junior School was Vernon Holme – now the Kent College Junior School – and I then attended secondary school at Kent College Canterbury Senior School, just up the road from the Junior School.

I went to Canterbury Christ Church University to study Physical Education and Sport and Exercise Science, where I graduated with a first-class degree.

Since joining the GB Centralised programme in 2014, I’ve moved closer to Bisham Abbey NSC, where we train.

When did you first play?

Grace in action at the Sentinel Hockey World League final women match in Auckland, England v Germany (photo: Lisa Altenburg) Grace in action at the Sentinel Hockey World League final women match in Auckland, England v Germany (photo: Lisa Altenburg)

I started playing at junior school so I must have been seven, and shortly after that I joined the Canterbury Hockey club minis training on a Sunday morning. My mum says when she came to pick me up at the end of the session. I’d be drawing patterns in the sand (maybe they were tactical formations) – we played on a sand-based pitch at the time.

I continued at Canterbury in the junior section through the age groups and alongside this I also played in the Ladies teams and I played my first Premier League game when I was 15. I’ve been playing in the Canterbury Ladies 1st XI just shy of 10 years now.

And playing for England?

I joined the England and GB programme in January 2014 and last November was the most recent time I represented England, at the World League Finals in New Zealand. I am very excited at the prospect of a home World Cup, I played in the series that took place at Lee Valley Stadium vs Holland and Argentina and those two games were unbelievable. I loved playing with the packed stands, we can feed off the energy of the crowd and it really helps us as a team to push us through those tough moments.

Why is hockey so popular?

Grace playing in Auckland (photo: WORLDSPORTPICS, Frank Uijlenbroek) Grace playing in Auckland (photo: WORLDSPORTPICS, Frank Uijlenbroek)

There have been several changes that have led to this, starting with 2012 and the women’s team winning a bronze medal and then subsequently in 2016 the women’s team wining Gold. There are now a lot more female role models within hockey.

I also think that with our sport becoming more professional – we train as a full-time squad, have a blue-chip sponsor in Investec and have salaries through our funding by the National Lottery/UK Sport – it has become a genuine career and a long-term opportunity to play internationally.

And through both these changes, the exposure of hockey on TV or streaming has significantly increased, which means as a sport it is now a lot more visible to the public. The regular success of the women’s team has meant there is a constant conversation and more people are talking about hockey on many media platforms.

Your future ambitions?

Short term, my international ambitions are being selected for the World Cup in July and then the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

After my international career, there are a number of avenues I’d like to pursue, mainly within physical activity in young people. I’ve done volunteer work with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and coach a lot of young people in schools. I believe that the health and wellbeing of young people in this country is one of the most important issues within our society.

I really enjoy working with young people, becoming a Physical Education teacher is another avenue to consider, my experiences in school were very positive and it is definitely an area which can inspire young people to be actively engaged.

I believe it’s important to have exposure to a number of sporting and physical activities from a young age, as it shouldn’t be a ‘one sport fits all’.

Being involved with empowering young peoples’ lives through physical activity and sport is something I am very passionate about.

Favourite places in Kent?

I am very fortunate that the countryside where my parents live is beautiful, surrounded by orchards and woodland near to the South Downs and even closer to Perry Wood, a go-to running route. You can just get lost in a completely different world from the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life. It was great growing up there as my brother and I would spend hours outside playing in the garden or orchards.

My mum and I are frequent visitors to Sissinghurst Castle and a definite favourite is Whitstable, where we regularly go for walks along the seafront.

Usually we park somewhere close to Tankerton and then walk into Whitstable, find a coffee shop and then walk back to the car. There is a fantastic restaurant called JoJo’s which as a family we go to when we’re celebrating a special occasion.

Other hobbies and interests?

I enjoy immersing myself in a good read and I am a big fan of the historical novelist Philippa Gregory – I think I must have nearly all her novels on my bookshelf. Alongside those are some classics by Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll, to name just a few.

Any health and fitness tips?

I chose hockey for the social aspect of the game and the dynamic, fast pace it’s played at. So finding something you enjoy that keeps you active is vital, otherwise you’re probably unlikely to stick to that exercise. You don’t need to do a big exercise session: if you can be active for 30 minutes, five times a week, then that’s a great start. Little and often is good.

Nutritionally, my advice is to prepare your food in advance so you don’t make unhealthy, last-minute choices. Try little swaps, such as eating wholewheat foods which contain higher levels of fibre with more vitamins and minerals rather than white starchy foods.

Breakfast this morning?

A mixture of muesli and granola. I have a couple of training sessions so I need to be fuelled ready for those tough sessions.

My tip is variety; if you don’t need lots of carbohydrates at breakfast, then swap cereal for yoghurt with fruit or berries and a sprinkling of granola. If you need something ‘on the go’ you can have a smoothie which includes yogurt, fruit and oats (and maybe a squeeze of honey). Pre-game I’ll eat two eggs (scrambled or poached) on toast with spinach and half an avocado.

Find out more

Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, supports women’s hockey from grass roots level through to the national team. For more information, visit: investec.co.uk/hockey

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