This time last year Alex Danson-Bennett was convinced she would never be able to play hockey again.
The Rio 2016 hockey gold medallist lost the ability to read, walk or speak after sustaining a concussion when she hit the back of her head on a wall while on holiday in Kenya 18 months ago.
Having captained England at a home World Cup shortly before the trip, the seemingly insignificant moment turned her life upside down in an instant – but she immediately vowed to come back.
Those aspirations felt unimaginable not too long ago but Danson-Bennett has finally breathed her first sigh of relief having completed her first week back at Bisham Abbey in the GB Hockey set-up – a position the Olympic champion will never take for granted again.
“I’m a different human to the human I was a year ago,” said Danson-Bennett. “I’ll be really honest, there were just so many dark times over the last 16 months when I just wondered whether I’d get well or if something had been misdiagnosed.
“Just seeing the team, picking up my stick and being welcomed back in the first meeting was a day I didn’t know would come, so it was pretty special.
“This has been my home for many years, but I hadn’t been here for a year and it feels like an age.
“It’s been a big step but it’s just so good to be able to do so much more. It’s certainly better than the front room of my bedroom, that’s for sure.”
Having only been back in the GB set-up for seven days, Danson-Bennett will not be part of the squad travelling to Australia for the start of their FIH Pro League season on February 1.
With time running out until Team GB launch their Olympic title defence in Tokyo, Danson-Bennett admitted herself in an Instagram post that now ‘is the last chance to see what she can do’ – but she knows full recovery is a long way off just yet.
“I’ve managed to tolerate full days, be in the gym, do running and bike sessions – but not without symptoms,” she added. “Headaches are my primary problem. I feel like if they went I could just crack on as before.
“I’m just grateful to be in an environment where I can tolerate lots of things going on. Everybody here knows me and knows my character and that if I could be on that pitch, I’d be there.
“The past year has given me the most enormous perspective. I was too unwell to make contact with anybody. I wasn’t well enough to place any phone calls, read any messages or do anything for myself at that stage.
“Coming back here has helped enormously. I feel well supported, but not everybody is that fortunate which is why it’s important to highlight just how debilitating head injuries can be.” Sportsbeat 2020