46-years old, never played hockey before and recovering from a major operation, what could go wrong?

SEVENOAKS SPORT & WELLBEING’S PUBLISHING EDITOR STEVE ROWLEY OPENS UP ABOUT HIP SURGERY AND HIS RETURN TO A SPORT HE REALLY WASN’T EXPECTING.

“In 2011, at the tender age of 36, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my left hip, and whilst the discomfort after playing football was bearable, I had soon developed bony growths, or osteophytes, that grew around the edge of the hip joint which in turn then led to severe pain, stiffness and difficulty doing certain activities, including sleeping.

Now there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but the symptoms can be managed with a range of different treatments. NHS England suggests cutting down on the amount of exercise you do if it’s too much; making sure you warm up before and stretching after exercising; trying low-impact exercises, such as swimming or cycling, instead of running; and making sure your running shoes fit well and support your feet properly.

These suggestions are all well and good for many people, but at some stage, and in my case, surgery became necessary to alleviate the pain I was experiencing.

So, nine years after being first diagnosed and in the middle of a global pandemic, my Orthopaedic surgeon made plans for a full hip replacement. I knew the time was right as I was in constant pain and was unable to do simple things such as put my socks on.

Post operation recovery
The operation went relatively well, albeit a return to hospital for a few days due to swelling in the leg did hinder my immediate physiotherapy plans, but I was up walking the corridors with no pain, well not due to arthritis anyway.

The country then plunged into the second national lockdown, and although I had no reason to go anywhere, my hip needed to recover, so I started walking the rather large block around my house and then progressed to a series of very slow bike rides.

I knew that cycling was a low impact option to help me get muscle growth back, and it worked without too much hassle.

Third lockdown’s a charm
Now, after Christmas, as the third national lockdown was announced, it was about keeping myself busy and ensuring that the effort I had already put in didn’t go to waste. With no gyms or swimming pools open and no outlet to progress my recovery, I found myself relaxing a bit more than I should have done. Yes, I put on the Covid weight.

It wasn’t until April when I saw an advert from Sevenoaks Hockey Club (SHC) that they were offering Back to Hockey sessions on Monday evenings, and you didn’t need to be a member, nor did you have to have any previous experience whatsoever. Falling into that category of having never played the sport before I was intrigued to see if firstly my leg would be able to take the movement? Would I be any good either? And would my many years of experience playing football show for absolutely nothing?

Back to Hockey
As the name suggests SHC’s Back to Hockey sessions are not just for returning players, but for those who have never lifted a hockey stick before as well.

As you can imagine, walking onto a hockey pitch for the first time was a little daunting. However, I was given the warmest of greetings from the coaches, Richard and Hazel and it was straight to work with a quick jog about the pitch. That definitely broke the ice as I struggled to keep up with the others, but a few hung back and coaxed me round to the finish, which was a pleasant surprise.

Sevenoaks Hockey Club’s Back to Hockey is fun, social and informal, with sessions aimed at adults of all ages and abilities. Photo credit: Hazel Barrett

Once we had done our stretches (they are harsh on the stretching) I was invited to select a stick from the club’s own collection and we were off. Richard and Hazel explained a few of the basics, like the grip, and we did a few pushes back and forth in pairs. “I’m a natural!”

After a few more exercises we were split into even teams and I got my first experience of match play. “Oh dear, maybe I’m not a natural!”

My fitness levels were definitely hitting the floor now, but I took a few moments to compose myself and back to it again. This was fun, this was exercise, this is what I had been missing. Not just during Covid either, but in my life. Why had I never played hockey before?

If I’m honest, Richard and Hazel’s immense positivity and the fact that my fellow group of players were so nice, helped that first step even more. Without them I don’t know if I would have returned for a second outing. But I did, and I have now completed an astonishing 10 weeks of an hour and a half hockey sessions. I feel great.

Breaking barriers
The sessions with SHC are fun, social and informal and aimed at people who either have not played for several years or are looking to play for the first time. Do not worry if you are a little apprehensive, unsure of the rules or worried that you won’t know anyone, Richard and Hazel will gently guide you through a series of fun and interactive sessions, all in a super-friendly and relaxed environment.

In fact, the sessions have seriously inspired me to pick up a hockey stick forever more. I love the social element of it too, it’s a great way to get fitter and the perfect opportunity to meet new people, which is something I think we have all been missing lately.

Thank you for allowing me to re-discover myself. I was worried that sport would elude me after my operation, but playing hockey has allowed me to develop my new skills, which I now have for life! And the hip feels great too!

• If you want to learn more about Sevenoaks Hockey Club’s Back to Hockey sessions, then please do visit their website at www.sevenoakshockey.club or message them via Twitter @SevenoaksHC.