The Sunday Times Magazine: Me and My Motor
Going Dutch put Shona McCallin in the fast lane to hockey gold.
Despite being a PE staple for generations of children, hockey has lagged behind other sports in terms of television coverage. But that changed at the Rio Olympics in 2016, when Team GB's women took the favourites, Holland, to a 3-3 draw in the final and then beat them in a penalty shootout - even delaying the start on the BBC News at Ten.
Shona McCallin was part of the team, but missed this year's Commonwealth Games because of concussion. She hopes to be among the medals again when England line up for the hockey World Cup in London this month. McCallin, 26, grew up on a family farm near Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire and describes herself as a bit of a tomboy, driving her mother to distraction with energy.
"My parents had their hands full rearing 60,000 ducks," she laughs. "So when Mum saw an ad for a 2 hour taster session at Newark Hockey Club, she took me and my older sister, Kate, along. From age six I was hooked." It seems like a good idea, but it meant a lot of driving. "Our village was quite remote. There were only four buses a day so Mum ferried me to training and matches in the VW Golf." McCallin tried football, swimming and athletics but soon focused on hockey and played her first England U16 match. "It was in Cardiff and my Gran came to watch. It was great pulling on the National shirt." By then her mother was almost a full time taxi service. "It was crucial I learnt to drive as soon as I could. Fortunately I passed by test first time, 2 months after my 17th birthday. Until then Mum has always been at the wheel. We liked to listen to music and talk. The only radio programme she insisted on listening to was tThe Archers at 7pm. The theme tune still rings in my ears."
McCallin shared the Golf with her mother for 6 months. It survived being flooded in a car par at the England Hockey training centre at Bisham Abbey, Marlow, and was recently sold with 250,000 miles on the clock. McCallin then bought a 'tired' Renault Clio for £500. The purple supermini was nicknamed Pedro. " It was the only car I've had an accident in. I skidded on black time and spun in the road. Fortunately, I just burst a tyre."
The midfielder's rise up the England rankings accelrated after she went to University in Holland where hockey is second only to football in popularity. She studies International Business Administration, captained England U21s and claimed 4 European Championship medals, including gold in 2015.
She hoped to come home from Rio with a medal. "I just thought the team was as well prepared as we could be," she says. "I do remember thinking how my life might change by the return flight but I didn't dare dream any further than that. We prepared meticulously as a team. The only thing we didn't prepare for was winning."
When the team came home they were besieged with requests for media appearance and sponsorship deals. One offer she accepted was for a Mini Clubman Estate. McCallin describes it as her first proper car and made her realise how driving can be more than "just getting from A to B."
Now living in Maidenhead, she drives a KIA Stonic, from EVOGo, but her dreams are to be able to afford an Audi R8. "But there wouldn't be much room for my hockey sticks," she sighs.