Danson-Bennett believes she will bring a unique perspective to her role as Vitality's performance champion

Photo: Vitality/GB Hockey

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The Olympic gold medal winning hockey player Alex Danson-Bennett believes she will bring a unique perspective to her new role as a performance champion for Vitality, helping businesses prioritise the health and wellbeing of their staff, as well as aiding the Great Britain’s women as they bid to defend the gold medal they won in Rio five years ago.

Had her life not taken a dramatic and unexpected twist, one of Great Britain’s greatest goalscorers of all time may well have been with them, leading the line at Tokyo.

However, just over two years ago, the Marlow athlete suffered what proved to be a major head injury while on holiday in Kenya in 2018.

Her recovery from the injury is still ongoing, and it led to her calling time on her international career last year, but – two weeks after giving birth to her daughter – she now has very different priorities and is focused on what she believes will be an amazing role for her.

“I’m going to businesses and basically using my experiences from sport, but actually I use a lot of what I’ve learned from my head injury as well,” she said. “The importance of our health and well-being in terms of our general life, but that’s just one part of the role. The other part is the partnership between Vitality and GB Hockey and it’s amazing that I’ll be able to support the team in a very different capacity.

“It’s funny, as an athlete I always took my health for granted because it was always there. I was always very fit. Yes, I had injuries, but my health wasn’t something that I considered day-to-day.

“When I hit my head other things like nutrition became absolutely essential, giving my brain time and space to heal, so mindfulness, yoga and things like that became very important. I had to consider my sleep and how I thought, I had to look at my health much more holistically and I realised that there are these pillars to your health. It isn’t just about exercising, it’s a combination of many factors. Even now, if I don’t look after these things my health will suffer as a consequence. I’ve seen the value of looking after every single aspect of your health.

“I’ve seen how much can be done to improve your well-being and quality of life, so taking on the role was an absolute no brainer because it covers the two things I’m most passionate about; looking after your body, exercising, sleep, nutrition, but it’s also linked to the hockey which is which is fabulous. That’s where my heart and soul have been for a very long time.”

Alex, from Marlow, admits her perspective on the world changed significantly when she fell back while on holiday and hit the back of her head. It was a freak injury sustained while laughing at a joke, and initially she dismissed its impact as nothing more than a mild concussion. However, six-weeks later she was taken to hospital with a suspected bleed to the brain, having been violently sick and had seizures. The effects have included a ‘loss of identity’, debilitating migraines and headaches, light sensitivity, and speech problems. These have eased over the past two years, but her recovery continues, and she believes very firmly she will recover fully.

“I’m unrecognisable from where I was,” she said. “Even from a year ago. I was unbelievably poorly for a very long time. I couldn’t really do anything, but if you saw me now, you’d think there was nothing wrong.

“I can function normally, but I still have chronic migraines and I have headaches most days. But, actually, they’re getting better, and one thing I’ve believed throughout this entire thing is that I will make a full recovery, because I’ve got so much better from where I was. Okay, it’s been slow, but there is so much we don’t understand about the intricacies of the brain and we don’t yet understand that much about brain injuries and concussion. I think we will work it out one day, but the brain is probably one of the best organs in the body for repairing itself, so I believe I will make a full recovery.

“But, yeah, my perspective on things has changed enormously because of this. Life is completely unrecognisable.

“We’ve just had a new baby and she’s a ticking timebomb, so if she cries, I might have to run off. Life is very different but it’s a new wonderful. I’m not taking too much maternity leave because it’s a great time for Vitality to have this partnership with hockey and they’re very supportive employees. I’m looking forward to getting back to it in a month or so.

“Now, more than ever, this sort of thing is important. Life is tough for people for all sorts of reasons due to the pandemic. People are juggling their work and family life and the things that could easily fall off the edge of a cliff are your exercise, your sleep, nutrition. Just integrating 10 minutes a day to have a bit of time to yourself could be crucial, getting outside for a walk or choosing the right foods can have an enormous impact on how you feel. Connecting with people is also very important, more important than it’s ever been before.

“I can draw upon my experiences over the last 20 years in hockey, but I can also draw on the past two years, which with regards to my health have certainly been the most challenging I’ve ever had.”

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