Altrincham's James Mazarelo could not escape hockey if he tried, writes Megan Armitage.
The 21-year-old was thrown into the deep end by his primary school and local club when in need of a goalkeeper and developed a love for the game from there.
Mazarelo was chosen to represent Team England at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games this summer after impressing at junior ranks and quick succession into the senior squad.
"I used to play football at primary school and then my primary school randomly decided to enter a hockey tournament,” said Mazarelo, who is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
There’s only 6️⃣ days to go until the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games! #B2022#TNLAthletes from the home nations met up to thank #NationalLottery players for their support and to celebrate the countdown to the Games. 🤞#MakeAmazingHappen [1/2] pic.twitter.com/Bfz6InsQff
— National Lottery Good Causes (@LottoGoodCauses) July 22, 2022
"And because I was the goalkeeper for football, they stuck me in goal for the hockey tournament.
"Then I went to secondary school and wasn't going to carry on playing hockey and then the local team didn't have a goalkeeper for their age group and they kind of dragged me down and I said I'd do it.
"And my love of it came from there and I've never stopped."
Mazarelo represented England at under-16, under-18 and under-21 level, winning silver at the 2019 EuroHockey Junior European Championships.
The Loughborough University student received his first international call up for England Hockey against Spain in the FIH Hockey Pro League in February this year.
And just six months later, Mazarelo will be heading to Birmingham for his first multi-event Games in an unexpected but welcomed turn of events.
He said: "Take me back a year ago, I never thought I would be anywhere near this so it's not really hit home yet.
"Having been in all the junior systems, I thought I would have another year in the elite development programme but by nature, with retirements after Tokyo, the route became clear and I'm lucky enough to be sat here now going to a home Commonwealth Games.
"Managing that speedy transition from the seniors into the juniors, it's been a little bit chaotic for the last six months.
"I've been finishing my degree alongside that which is nice to have that back up there."
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 400 athletes, and having secured his place on the squad, Mazarelo is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in his home country.
With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Mazarelo hopes sharing his story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.
Mazarelo joins a team that won bronze at the 2019 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and is excited to share the stage with the athletes he looked up to as a junior and has relished the advice passed down to him from more experienced players.
He said: "You kind of grow up and they're your heroes and then you get to actually share a pitch with them and it's fantastic.
"From a hockey point of view, it's very easy that when they come into the senior programme, you feel that you need to change stuff to be successful whereas actually, we get quite a lot of reminders to stick to what you know.
"Because that's what's made you successful and nothing needs to change.
"The pace of the game does increase a little bit but the skills are the same and nothing goes away from what's made you successful in the past."National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.