West Chiltington’s golden girl Maddie Hinch says it has been an epic journey to becoming an Olympic champion - but believes knock-backs have made her stronger.
The Great Britain goalkeeper has catapulted to super-stardom after she would not be beaten on penalties in Rio as the ladies captured the gold medal in a dramatic shoot-out victory.
The 2-0 penalty win after a gripping 3-3 draw against the Netherlands saw them become the first-ever female Brits to win gold in hockey.
For a down-to-earth Hinch, it still hasn’t fully sunk in, but from becoming a household name, Twitter sensation and role model, the 27-year-old is still pinching herself.
Overall, she is just pleased that their world domination is helping to propel a sport she loves into the limelight.
At the age of 13, Hinch picked up a stick for the first time at Hazelgrove Prep School and it’s been a real rollercoaster rise to being on top of the world.
Speaking to the County Times from her family home in West Chiltington, she said: “We are a strong part of the country for hockey. I am hoping that this area in particular will jump on board and find out where their local hockey club is and go down and grab a stick.
“That is all I did 15 years ago and now I am an Olympic champion, so thank god I did.
“I started to realise my potential when I was 15 when my PE teacher at the time took me down to her local club, Exmouth.
“I have had a real hell of a journey, I was 15 when I first got my county trial and didn’t get in until I was 18 - they didn’t like me. I am not a stereotypical goalie. I am a bit smaller and out and about, back then the thought was to get the biggest person in there. The game has changed now.
“I have been dropped numerous times and only ever been number one about three years ago, when I first got the shirt for GB. I had eight caps and now I have just got my hundredth out in Rio, life has gone in a big turnaround circle and I couldn’t be the goalie I am today if I hadn’t of had that journey as a kid.
“I talk to kids and tell them it is tough to get where you are, but be grateful of the setbacks because it’s pretty normal.
“It’s how it happens, I have a great up and get knocked back down again. Going to London 2012 I had my heart set on being the reserve keeper and the number one at the time was very much my idol and mentor.
“I thought I could get the number two, but they didn’t give me that either and I was pretty distraught. I feel like my career will always go this way, one up, one down.
“It’s been pretty up recently, but I have no doubt there will be other versions of downs in my career - I am lucky I have a gold medal to reflect on.
“Maybe the coaches not taking me that early was a good thing, I can kind of see it now, but at the time, you just want to play. Maybe they knew not taking me would give me a bit more drive and get me to grow up a bit.”
Hinch, who lives in Maidenhead, has already secured a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and gold at the EuroHockey Championships last year, but admits her latest coup is a ‘dream come true’.
The former Exmouth, Leicester and Holcombe stopper will head overseas next season to play for Dutch club SCHC, she added: “It doesn’t feel real at all to be honest.
“Everyone is saying congratulations, you’re an Olympic champion and it doesn’t sound right to me. It sounds a bit surreal still.
“Coming home has definitely made us realise how much of an impact we had, we were in a bit of a bubble in Rio, we took ourselves off social media throughout the tournament and until we signed in after the final, we had no real idea quite how many people had tuned in.
“When we landed in Heathrow airport there were literally hundreds of kids running in hockey kit, with sticks and stuff there to meet us. That was the moment it really hit home as to how cool this is, ultimately we just want people to play our sport.
“That games was just meant to happen. It was almost like it was written in the stars as it could have been the most boring game in the world, but it had everything.
“I have dreamt of this, but I don’t know if I ever truly thought it would become a reality. I remember the first thing after the game my brother text me and the first thing he said was’ you are trending on Twitter’, nothing about the gold medal.
“I just could not quite believe the people that were talking about our performance and mine, it was nuts. I was just pleased to do my bit for the girls. Often as a goalkeeper you have nothing to do or are the villain, it just so happened that night a lot hit me.
“I just enjoyed myself, when it went to the shoot-out I wasn’t scared and I thought ‘make a nuisance of yourself, enjoy the moment’ and as a result it just kept hitting me and I am pleased it did.”