Giselle Ansley’s kayak sends calm ripples across the River Thames. The sun is shining and for a moment, the England hockey player is transported back to the tranquil waters that surround her hometown of Kingsbridge, Devon. It’s a welcome change of pace for the Olympic gold-winning defender.
“When you get out on the water usually there’s no one else out there and it’s just really chilled and really calm,” the 26-year-old explains. “I go out for a couple of hours and just enjoy that time, pootling along very slowly taking in everything that’s around me.”
Giselle received her kayak as a present for her 21st birthday but has always loved the water. She remembers adventures in her family canoe as a very young child along Kingsbridge and Salcombe Estuary.
“We were always going out as a family, sitting with the parents at either end, the four kids in the middle and the dog somewhere as well,” she says. “I’m still a country girl at heart, so that’s what I really enjoy: just being there, out on the water, amongst nature.”
Although she visits home with her kayak in tow whenever possible, Giselle has relocated to Maidstone for hockey and now the kayak is best acquainted with the water behind her nearby training ground. She takes the boat out at least once a week, usually on her Sunday rest day, and was especially grateful for the respite ahead of the Women’s Hockey World Cup, which kicked off on the 21 July.
“I feel revived and rejuvenated after I’ve been out,” she says. “We’re always talking at training about recharging and giving back to yourself from a psychological point of view, and for me, kayaking is how I do it. It’s time to myself to do something different so that come Monday, I’m ready and raring to go again.”
Hockey is fully funded by UK Sport and Giselle feels “very fortunate” not to have to juggle training with other employment like a lot of sportswomen. But the full-time schedule is still intense, with players training around five days per week, with most completing recovery sessions such as yoga or swimming on rest days.
But it’s the selection process, rather than her full timetable, that she finds most stressful. Despite having Olympic and European gold medals to her name, Giselle is always aware that no one’s place on the team is guaranteed.
The team train as a squad of 33, but only 18 will go to most events and only 16 will go to the Olympics.
“There’s constant pressure to perform because there’s a large amount of people who do get left behind when the team goes to a tournament,” she says.
“Every single training session you are effectively being assessed. You’re competing against people you see every day, but when you then get selected for a tournament you’re a complete team - that’s what’s tough about it.”
She says embracing the competitiveness is key to staying happy and dedicated in the sport and kayaking helps her to maintain a healthy mindset.
“When I go out there in my kayak, I’m completely away from the hockey pitch and I don’t think about what I did do right or didn’t do right during the session. It helps to stop the thoughts of ‘that person was better than me at that’,” she explains.
“Kayaking is a way to get away from all of that. I’m enjoying myself, doing something different and getting myself ready for the next day.”