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Olympic champion Susannah Townsend lifts the lid on her recovery from knee surgery and hopes for the future

By Alex Hoad

Susannah Townsend says her nine-month injury nightmare will be the making of her as she sets her sights on more Olympic glory.

The 27-year-old Canterbury star went from the euphoria of claiming an historic and dramatic gold medal in Rio last August to undergoing surgery on her knee cartilege in early October.

However after a winter of lonely recovery and dedicated rehabilitation, the dynamic midfielder returned to the pitch at the end of May and has already returned to elite hockey after facing Argentina and the Netherlands infront of a packed house at Lee Valley nearly two weeks ago.

Susannah Townsend. Picture: Alan Langley
Susannah Townsend. Picture: Alan Langley

Townsend and the GB medical staff managed her injury through the Olympics but it flared up in just her third game for Belgian side La Gantoise, leading to surgery in London.

She said: “Before Rio we made the decision to manage it and we did a great job of that. With how Rio went and obviously winning gold when I did require surgery it was a lot easier to take.

“I was petrified at the thought of the rehab. I’m the sort of person who never sits down, but I had two months of my knee being in a CPM machine for eight hours a day - that is your life.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But I was told if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t play international hockey again, so I had to do it.”

Outgoing Townsend admitted the impact on her was as much psychological as physical, adding: “When you are injured you spend an awful lot of time by yourself, but I’d turn down invitations to events as I knew it would affect my rehab - it’s not a difficult decision to make if your career is at stake.

“I’m incredibly vain and I could see myself, sat there every day, getting fatter and fatter, it was just something I had to accept.

“I think I only had three really bad days, that’s it. Playing hockey again was always the light at the end of the tunnel for me.

“I decided along the way that I want to be the ray of sunshine in the room, being positive and smiling and laughing. I thought that would help me and it has - positive thinking is not a myth.”

Susannah Townsend pushes forward against Pegasus in the recent EuroHockey Championships in Bilthoven. Picture: Ady Kerry
Susannah Townsend pushes forward against Pegasus in the recent EuroHockey Championships in Bilthoven. Picture: Ady Kerry

She added: “I sent an email to everyone at the start involved basically saying ‘I’m going to be a pain in the backside but i’ll work as hard as I can to get back.’

“I have done that. I can definitely look back and be proud. No athlete wants to go through that but I have learned a lot about myself.

“(GB Coach) Danny Kerry says it will be the making of me and I definitely feel it has been and will be.”

Townsend - who will return to home club Canterbury Ladies in the Investec National Premier Division next season - admits she will have to manage her playing workload between now and Tokyo 2020 as her knee will never fully recover.

She said: “The analogy I use to explain it is like taking a divot in golf. I had a hole in my cartilage and like a divot you can replace the grass but it’ll never be the same.

“With an injury like this, I’ll have to be monitored all the time. I’ll have testing when the other girls aren’t in. It’ll never be completely secure again, but it feels strong right now - I just have to keep my quad muscles really strong to protect it.”

Townsend teed-up a goal for Sophie Bray against the Netherlands and claimed: “It was one of my best memories. Winning gold was incredible, but pulling on that shirt again and being out there, it’s right up there.

“It’s just amazing to be able to pick up a stick and go out there and play with my mates. Doing it infront of 5,000 fans all supporting you - it doesn’t get much better than that.”

The former Sutton Valence School pupil added: “I wouldn’t have been there without the amazing support I’ve had from everyone around me. I owe so much to the support staff for helping me get back on the pitch.

“My first game back in Madrid I had some time to reflect by myself on all the people who had helped me to get back.

“When we walked out I got quite emotional and hugged and thanked our physio who has done so much for me, going above and beyond and keeping me on track. I am very lucky.”

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