Cannock hockey star Lily Walker has gone from a name on the Birmingham 2022 ticket ballot to one of the chosen few to represent Team England, writes Tom Harle, Sportsbeat.
The 20-year-old applied for tickets to watch hockey events at the Games, set to be staged on the same University of Birmingham pitches where she plays day in, day out.
Walker wasn’t banking on a rapid rise, resembling a dream sequence, into David Ralph’s 18-strong England squad for the home showpiece.
“It’s honestly surreal,” said Walker.
“It would have been crazy just to get tickets to go and watch the Games and experience the spectator side of it at the Birmingham pitches.
“I never dreamed about being part of the team or even the England programme. It’s going to be a completely amazing experience.”
Walker started out at Cannock Hockey Club and went through the England pathway up to Under-21 level.
Her first major tournament was meant to be the Junior World Cup, that was postponed in November due to Covid-19.
She wouldn’t have long to wait to make a mark at the highest level, called into Ralph’s squad earlier this year and making her England debut in the FIH Pro League in April.
Walker is one of more than 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.
Walker has already tested herself against the best teams in the world including Olympic champions Netherlands, India, and China.
The youngster has revelled in working alongside some of the most decorated players in the sport including Birmingham’s Laura Unsworth, a three-time Olympic medallist.
— Esme Burge (@esmeburge) April 23, 2022
“It’s just about being able to listen to their wisdom,” said Walker.
“Sometimes all you have to do is stand and listen to one of their conversations and you take on a wealth of knowledge on his yacht.
“Laura is a Midlander herself and she’s nearly done it all in the sport. Being able to listen to what she says on and off the pitch and how she carries herself, it’s amazing.
“You always think you’ve learned as much as you can but every single day, you’re taking things on.”
For Walker, the biggest step up from domestic hockey to the international stage has been intensity.
“There’s a demand and expectation that you make of yourself every day,” she said.
“In under-16s you can have a bit of joke and a laugh, and you can still have that, but you lift each other up through a very high level of expectation.”
England won silver at Glasgow 2014 and bronze at Gold Coast 2018 in women’s hockey.
That means the podium is the standard that Walker and co. have to follow on home soil.
“A medal is definitely an aim of ours,” she said. “It's something that we really want to achieve and strive for.
“We're not just going to compete, we’re setting our sights much higher.”
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.