Retirement brought Danson-Bennett more joy than pain, because she did it on her own terms

Early last year Marlow's Alex Danson-Bennett attempted to rediscover her fitness and fight to regain her place in the England and Great Britain hockey team having suffered a debilitating head injury which saw her rushed to hospital having had seizures and been violently sick.

The effects of the injury, sustained as she fell back while laughing at one of her husband’s jokes while on holiday in 2018, included a ‘loss of identity’, migraines, headaches, light sensitivity, and speech problems.

At the time of her comeback, she knew in her ‘heart of hearts’ that it was too soon, that her body and brain wouldn’t be up to it, but she was determined for the injury not to determine how her career played out. She tried with the same effort and determination that brought her 115 goals in 306 appearances for her country, but the severity of the injury forced her to admit defeat. However, in giving it her best shot, she feels she retired on her own terms.

Reflecting on the time now, however, she says her retirement brought her more joy than pain.

“Hand on heart, I wanted to try and come back,” she said.

“I wanted to finish on my terms, and I didn’t want my head injury to dictate how my career ended. It was my stubbornness to give it a go. I knew in my heart of hearts that it would probably be too much for me at that point.

“I was still not able to tolerate much exercise and I still had symptoms every day. But I wanted to try and see.

“GB Hockey were supportive of that and happy for me to give it a go. I was being closely monitored all the time, but I knew after a couple of weeks it wasn’t something I could do.

“Playing elite sport is both physically and mentally exhausting and my body and brain just weren’t up to it.

“Therefore, it was a really easy decision because I had tried, and I knew I couldn’t do it. All the physical and emotional manifestations for me had come two years before when I hit my head. Overnight I was completely removed from an environment I’d been in for 20 years; I was suddenly not part of the team anymore or leading the team out at tournaments. I was unable to hold a conversation and I could really tolerate light. I was so poorly. That was the time when I had to deal with everything.”

She added: “So I enjoyed my retirement. It was so overwhelming, so lovely to hear from people I’d played with. It was incredible to retire on my own terms, albeit because of the head injury, but it was still my decision that I was able to make. And it was lovely to share that moment with my husband, my family and my friends.

“My life right now couldn’t be any more different. But I love the role I have now with Vitality. Starting a family has been the greatest joy ever, and even though we’ve only had her a couple of weeks, it’s been an incredibly special time. As soon as the world opens up and hockey is played again, I’ll be involved.

“I still have a coaching role at Wimbledon hockey club, and I love my connection to hockey. However, my priorities are now my health and my family.”

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