Our Story: Sarah Jones and Leah Wilkinson

There's one question Sarah Jones has never been asked: 'when did you realise you were lesbian?'

"I've got to think about that," she says. "It was just the classic, fancying your P.E teacher when you're 15 kind of thing.

"I'm only 30, but I honestly think times have changed. We were left to find it out for ourselves. There was nothing in the media, I didn't really know what it meant if I'm honest."

Jones has never been made to feel different, and that says more about her sport - hockey, played at the highest level - than about society.

She still stops short of holding hands with her partner, fellow Great Britain and Wales player Leah Wilkinson, when they walk down the high street, to 'avoid the hassle' of comments and wolf-whistles.

But among team-mates and the hockey community, they have been public as a couple for eight years. They are engaged, they own a house together. They dote over their garden.

In a sense, it is because of hockey that they can be what they want to be - just a normal couple, taking care of business.

"Growing up in the hockey world, I was around a lot of gay women," said Leah, who started out at Belper Hockey Club in Derbyshire.

"My mum and sister had plenty of gay friends and for me it was all pretty easy. It was part of our lives, it was not seen as anything different.

"We shouldn't say we're fortunate, but you hear really sad stories about people who aren't accepted. We're lucky to have hockey, where there is such a thriving LGBT community."

Hockey's close relationship with university sport is key. Both Sarah and Leah went to Loughborough University, and found it personally and professionally transformative.

"Loughborough was such a comfortable environment to be in," Sarah says.

"We talk about normalisation - I think, like club hockey turned out to be, it was just somewhere where no-one batted an eyelid and we could both be ourselves.

"I've got to say I've played hockey all my life and not once have I ever had a negative comment or been judged by anyone within the world of sport."

When she's not representing her country, Leah is head of year 10 and a history teacher at a mixed independent school in Surrey.

Her pupils are in awe of 'miss' playing for Great Britain, but there is a whole other side of her personality - rightly or wrongly - they may never hear about.

"We don't talk about LGBT issues at all at my school," says the 34-year-old.

"With pupils, it goes unsaid. I wouldn't talk about my personal life with my pupils anyway, but it's very unlikely they aren't aware of it given the interviews I've done.

"I don't talk about it, not because I've got anything to hide, but because I want to be professional. Maybe I should talk about it more, to help them understand.

"A lack of education is a big reason why Sarah and I still can't walk down the street without people staring."

As a couple in women's hockey, parallels with Olympic champion couple Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh are never far away.

While they will certainly aim to replicate their medal-winning feats next year in Tokyo, the couple have something to say about the constant comparisons.

"People think, two other women, they must be very like Kate and Hels," says Sarah.

"They've got their own relationship identity and identity as a pair and of course, we're different to that."

Leah continues: "Every couple, every situation is different. As an LGBT couple, there is a tendency for us to all be portrayed in the same way.

"We talk about role models a lot, but sometimes you just want to be a normal couple. You don't want to be a role model 24/7, you don't want to have to make a statement when you go to the shops, or do photoshoots for magazines.

"Sometimes you actually just want to live your life, and get on with it."

Sportsbeat 2020

Team GB believes that sport should be open to everyone. That’s why this week, we’ll be showing our support to Stonewall and their Rainbow Laces campaign. Throughout the week on TeamGB.com, we’ll be telling the stories of members of the LGBT+ community from within the Olympic sporting world, with GB Hockey's Sarah Jones and Leah Wilkinson the latest to feature.

Header photo credit: Purplebricks