Last year it was the men with Operation Stretcher, this year the women with Operation Endure. From the outset, one thing that is synonymous with Hockey for Heroes is the level of endurance and both mental & physical fatigue that this group put themselves through to help raise vital funds for their charity partner Help for Heroes.
When Hockey for Heroes formed their women's team in December of 2016, CEO Joel Forrester said "I believe we have formed a band of women that will become one of the closest-knit sports teams we have seen. In the next few years they will be putting themselves through everything we can throw at them. At the start of next year, we will sit down and start planning their first tour."
After numerous meetings and a year in the planning, Operation Endure was here. 1620 miles, 8 Military Challenges and 28 hockey matches; all within 8 days.
Starting at the Bisham Abbey, National Sports Centre in Buckinghamshire, the Hockey for Heroes ladies took advantage of a photo opportunity with the World Cup trophy before the start of the tour. Their journey would take them to Canterbury, via Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Solihull, Leicester, Reading and Guildford.
There was a sense of excitement and apprehension as the team left for Glasgow and the start of OpEndure. Speaking to team Captain, Chloe Hobson said “The people involved in this journey are inspirational! Everyone’s reason for being a part of Hockey for Heroes may be different, but our values, passion and sheer determination bring a force so positive and so mind-blowing it’s infectious. Struggles develop your strength, and when you’re going through hardships we never surrender, that is our strength. I’m truly humbled to captain this amazing bunch of people on OpEndure".
With Scottish Hockey star Nikki Alexander-Lloyd, back from Commonwealth Games duties, adding vital international experience to not only bolster the squad on the pitch but also off it. Each day the team will pushed themselves to the limit as they took on various gruelling military challenges from 10 Mile stretcher carries, 3.5-mile log runs through Windsor Great Park to a 5-mile casevac around a reservoir.
“This tour has been years in the making, and we are all so excited for it to start! This is going to be one of the toughest challenges many of us have ever faced, both mentally and physically, but what we are putting ourselves through is nothing compared to the service men and women. We are doing this to raise awareness and funds for them, so it is worth it for sure” said Nikki Alexander-Lloyd as they arrived in Glasgow for day 1 of OpEndure.
There was one day where the ladies were given a relative rest, instead of the daily physical challenge the team paid a visit to Tidworth, Wiltshire where they had the humbling experience of seeing for themselves the impact that their fundraising has at Tedworth House. Whether returning from duty or transitioning to civilian life the centre aims to inspire those who have been wounded, injured or become sick while serving their country and enable them to lead active, independent and fulfilling lives.
Following the morning challenges, the Hockey for Heroes team went on to play up to 4 games of hockey each day. Opposition teams varied from local under 18's to national and international teams.
"Each game offered something different, but all were competitive and friendly. The ladies played their hearts out in every single game. We turned potential loses into incredible wins and scored some amazing goals, along with some great saves by our Goalkeeper Aurora" said Lara Wilkinson, Vice Captain, Hockey for Heroes. The words “I can’t believe they continue to play at such a high level, after all they have been through” were often heard by spectators and opposition.
The success of this tour was only possible because of support from all the host clubs, the hockey family and our sponsors Celixir, Colgate and Guardian Pro. The hockey family came out in force to support the ladies in their fundraising efforts and came up with creative ways to raise money. From cake sales and raffles to inflatable hockey pitches and fire-walks. Thank you so much to everyone involved for making the tour a success, with your help we're on target to raise in excess £40,000.