'Everything happens for a reason’ says England's Sam Ward after injury comeback

·4-min read
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Hockey - Men - Quarterfinal - India v Britain - Oi Hockey Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 1, 2021. Sam Ward of Britain celebrates after scoring. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo (Bernadett Szabo / reuters)

Undoubtedly, Sam Ward is the man who made the impossible possible, writes Megan Armitage.

The Leicester athlete was vying for a hat-trick in Great Britain's Olympic hockey qualifier against Malaysia when the ball - travelling at about 50mph - hit the him in the left eye.

A 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and one of England Hockey's most prolific goal scorers, Ward suffered seven facial fractures and tore his retina, leaving him blind in one eye.

But the forward refused to retire and made an unprecedented return to the sport in time for the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics and is now on his way to Birmingham this summer for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

"Early on I was told I wouldn't return to hockey and it was probably safest for me and my life to not put myself in any kind of risk for the future,” said Ward, 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.

"But like any kind of sports person, you've got to a level because you're wired up a bit differently and you're determined to do what people don't think you can achieve.

"And that was one of those challenges where I thought 'I want to be the guy who comes back from this', so I saw it as a challenge and took it day by day.

"Early on it was looking not that great, I was struggling to have any form of depth perception having lost all my central vision in my eye but unbelievably the brain's pretty impressive and it learns to adapt and as time's gone on it's gone from strength to strength."

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, Ward is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in his home country.

Ward's story becomes even more extraordinary considering he was just two weeks away from quitting hockey when he received the email that started his career.

The 31-year-old had never played hockey internationally in the junior ranks and was ready to give up the dream and go full time in sales before he received a late trial for England Hockey aged 23.

He said: "My mum and dad met playing in a mixed team, so I've basically had a hockey stick in my hand from the age of four or five.

"I was that annoying child who wacked a ball against the fence and the umpires got really annoyed and parents having to tell their kids off to sit down and be quiet.

"I've played hockey all these years, but my journey was a bit different. I didn't play any junior international stuff or tournament, so I actually got picked for England and Great Britain aged 23 whilst selling cars in Loughborough.

"I was actually two weeks away from completely quitting hockey for good.

"I was in fleet sales and was going to go into main sales and work weekends so I thought it's near the end of the season I will probably finish in a couple of weeks and that's when I received an email from the England head coach saying I was going to get a trial.

"So I'm a believer in that everything happens for a reason."

Part of the team that won bronze at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Ward reflected on that moment with joy and hopes that this summer will be just as fruitful.

He added: "I will go as far as saying that's one of the best moments of my career and probably still is and now we're hoping that we can go and top that in Birmingham.

"I've had an interesting last few years of my career and I feel like I'm still improving as time goes on."

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