As Hollie Pearne-Webb strode confidently forward to slot in the winner in the shootout in the Olympic Hockey Final in Rio, more than one person working for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would’ve been looking at their television screen and exclaiming “Wait. She works in my office!” Pearne-Webb, like some sort of superhero leads an amazing double life: Some days she’s a government management accountant, other days she’s a world-class-athlete.
“Before the Olympics only my close colleagues in my team and the graduate scheme staff knew about my hockey. It wasn’t till after the Olympics that the whole department became aware of what I’d been doing for the past four years and why I was often absent from the office.”
“It was great.” she smiles. “I hadn’t realised how many hockey players and hockey people we had in the department. After Rio I had people emailing me or coming to my desk to tell me about their sons and daughters who played, asking if I could sign things, it’s been great getting to know different people in the office and I guess it’s been good for them to realise why I’m not there all the time!”
It is common for the average club player to juggle their training and playing schedule around their full time job but far less common for that to be the case for an international player. Her international team mates will for the most part focus full time on hockey and nothing else. Pearne-Webb’s situation is more akin to yours or mine, spinning plates to keep her “normal” job going alongside her training schedule and international playing commitments.
It is easy to think of professional athletes as multi-millionaires with big salaries and a laser focus on training, but the reality for hockey is quite different. With lottery and UK Sport funding affording them at most £25,000 a year it is imperative that a hockey player always has one eye on their post-playing career.
As well as safeguarding her life after hockey, the Surbiton defender highlights the mental benefits of having something other than her sport to focus on:
“It’s important to have something away from the pitch. It’s so intense here you are always thinking about what you’ve done and how you can improve so you’re in danger of thinking about hockey all the time. For me, having my job forces me to go into the office and think about something else.”
As well as taking her mind off the rigours of top level sport, Pearne-Webb’s double life has also taught her skills she didn’t realise she had as well as honing some she already did. Her organisation and communication have to be on point to ensure she is where she’s meant to be, when she’s meant to be there and to make sure either Danny Kerry her coach, or her boss at DEFRA know what she’s doing.
“I’ve always been very organised but at the start it was difficult. Hockey takes priority and gets in the calendar first but I do have to be organised and communicate with people. There are so many skills I’ve discovered I have and so many I’ve developed that it’s been a really positive experience for me. It is possible to have both lives, it’s a lot of time and effort but it is worth it, it’s really helped me.”
England will take on India in their first match of a home World Cup on 21 July before facing the USA and Ireland on 25 and 29 July respectively. These games will determine whether they make it through to the quarter finals and a chance at World Cup glory.
With a fanatical sell-out home crowd expected for all of those games the Olympic Gold medallist is relishing the prospect of using that “12th player” to inspire England to glory on home turf.
Her colleagues at DEFRA are already gripped with World Cup fever thanks to the exploits of England’s football team and now, with one of their own facing the best around in another World Cup in the same summer, they will be going to the games and watching on TV and there’s even an office Hockey World Cup sweepstake being set up to add some spice.
If Pearne-Webb is able to win the World Cup on home soil, some of her achievements will read: “MBE, European Champion, Olympic Gold Medallist and World Cup winner.”
Not a bad CV, whatever your place of work.