Evans on the moment she thought her Olympic dream was over

Sarah Evans
“When it happened, the worst went through my head and I thought ‘if I’ve done my ACL, I won’t get to go to the Olympics’.”

Just over 24 hours before Great Britain took on Chile in the FIH Olympic Qualifier back in November, Sarah Evans believed her Olympic dream could be over.

In the final training session before the opening game, the midfielder accidentally stood on the stick of Susannah Townsend while the two battled for possession during a drill.

The Surbiton captain immediately hit the floor, letting out a cry of pain as she clutched her knee while team-mates and support staff rushed to her aid.

With just months to go until Tokyo 2020 and having ‘never experienced pain like that in an injury before’, Evans feared the worst.

“When it happened, the worst went through my head and I thought ‘if I’ve done my ACL, I won’t get to go to the Olympics’,” she recalled.

“When you have that worst case scenario in your head and it can be very much a reality, you have to deal with the emotions of that.

“When I found out it [that it was not ligament damage] I was overjoyed and then you realise how lucky you are to be able to do being doing this, trying go to an Olympic Games.”

Sarah Evans 100th International Appearance

Evans had in fact suffered bone bruising to her knee, an injury still significant enough to rule her out of action for four months but not one that would prevent her of being in with a chance of appearing at Tokyo 2020.

In those initial hours before the diagnosis, the 28-year-old went through a myriad of emotions and scenarios in her head as she tried to prepare for the worst, drawing strength from the experiences of seeing fellow GB players recover from ACL injuries in recent times.

“For me it’s one of the worst injuries because of the time frame that you’re out for,” she said.

“It happened at 11am, at 2pm I had a scan in London and by 4pm I had the results. Over those five hours I went through an emotional rollercoaster of thinking this might be an ACL, which would mean I wouldn’t be able to go to the Olympics, but at the same time not knowing the extent of the injury so trying to be really positive and hopeful.

“I wouldn’t have been ok with not being able to go to the Olympics – I would have been absolutely devastated – but you can’t control anything that happens like this. We play sport, literally anything can happen and half the time it’s out of your control.

“When they did say it was bone bruising I was happy, which was weird as they said I would be out for four months but, because my mind had gone to the worst case, that seemed like a good replacement. 

“I’ve seen so many people rehab so unbelievably well and I’ve got so much admiration for Brendan [Creed], Sabbie [Heesh] and Grass [Chris Grassick] who have come back amazingly. If that was the case for me I would have got my head down and done it but I was relieved that it wasn’t that and that I’m back on the pitch already.”

Not only did the injury mean that Evans missed out on the FIH Olympic Qualifiers, it also saw her unable to travel to Australia and New Zealand for GB’s opening FIH Hockey Pro League games last month.

Yet despite the frustration of not being able to do what she loves the most, the 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist was grateful to all of her team-mates for helping her get through what can be a tough period for athletes.

“The people in the rehab group will go through incredibly low times because sometimes it can get very lonely,” she explained. 

“But that will only be for a small period of time because someone else recognises that. Or if it hasn’t been recognised you can still reach out to someone and say ‘I’m struggling’ and then you have a group of people rallying around you. 

“There was a group of five or six of us all rehabbing at the same time whilst the squads were away and it was such a good environment for us all to be able to help each other. We all wanted the get the best out of each other and knew that we were getting our heads down, cracking on but we were there as a little support group.

“I play hockey because I love being part of a team so, when you’re not directly out on the pitch with everyone, just to know you’ve got people there helping and supporting you it means the world.”

Having returned for Surbiton in mid-February, Evans is now back training with the GB teams and hoping to be in the squads for this summer’s FIH Hockey Pro League games in London.

She’s especially targeting the double header against Argentina at The Stoop on 16-17 May, having missed the game against New Zealand there last year due to a minor injury.

And with the Tokyo 2020 Games taking place shortly after, Evans also knows how important these matches will be leading into the biggest sporting event of the year.

She said: “It’s great to be able to play some of the best teams in the world in the build up to the Olympics. In previous cycles we’ve gone away for small trips but you maybe only play a couple of the top teams, whereas with the FIH Hockey Pro League you get to play all the top teams. 

“Playing Argentina at The Stoop will be great. They always bring such a great atmosphere wherever they play but for us to impose that on them with all of our fans at The Stoop will be amazing. I didn’t get to play that game last year so I’ll be fighting to be in the squad for that this year because, even just sat in the crowd watching, it was unbelievable and the amount of people who came to support was incredible. It was just such a show. 

“It’s amazing to see how far the sport has come, the fact that we can fill stadiums like that. It was a great atmosphere last year and we will build on that this year and hopefully long may it continue.”

FIHPL 2020

Tickets are available to see GB take on the world’s best in London this summer – click here to get yours!