What an amazing weekend in Poland, winning gold. There was a great team atmosphere, play was good and our hosts were really friendly.
Because of the flight times I travelled out to Poznan on Wednesday 25 November with my BC1 Assistant, Sarah, and my Mum. We met Matt and Richard from Boccia England at Luton airport along with another player Penny and her parents. The flight and transfers went smoothly, the transfer to Wagrowiec took an hour and a half and we arrived at the hotel around 9.30pm, in all we had been on the road 13 hours.
Joanna the organiser was waiting to meet us and immediately took us to the dining room for a meal before we checked in. (Food figures highly in my life……I am always hungry and need to eat every 2 to 3 hours). Anyway by 10.30pm we rolled into our beds. It had been a tiring day, but I was really excited to be in Poland and ready to compete.
Thursday was a free day, Josh and Jabe, the other players, weren’t due to arrive until tea time. After a leisurely breakfast we all ventured off to the local town. The route was along the lake was really accessible. Just a pity it was so cold, we were well wrapped up (except Matt who had left his coat in England!) but it still became chilly quite quickly. Once at the town we split up; Sarah, Mum and I went to the supermarket and bought supplies, then made our way back to the hotel for lunch.
In the afternoon we had a warm up in the ballroom, probably the most fabulous place I’ve ever played, good job we weren’t practising lobs with those chandeliers!! When we came down for dinner Josh and Jabe had arrived along with families and assistants. It was nice for the players and coaches to all sit together whilst the parents and assistants were relegated to sit with Richard. More food……..then a team briefing, followed by a quick boccia game with everyone playing. Somehow Richard, Matt and Sunil (coach) won, was it a fix that they managed to get a bye into the final?
Friday morning dawned early. We had to be up and ready to leave at 7.15am. We arrived around 8 at the venue, and the BC1s and BC4s were all competing at the same times throughout the day. We had matches scheduled at 9am, 1.30pm and 4.30pm, pity as we couldn’t watch each other. With only 6 BC1 entrants from Germany, Poland and England there was to be a round robin competition (The BC4s had rounds and positional playoffs).
My first game I won 12-1 and only later found out my opponent was Polish champion and has a Bisfed world ranking of 39. This winning start made me feel confident to move on.
My second match was against another Polish player, this was much tougher. Robert was a great short game player – very accurate just over the v line, however, I managed to win on my longer ends and the final result was 6-5. I’m pleased I didn’t find out until I got home he is world ranked #66. Sometimes it’s better not to know but to just go in and fight the fight. Two games up, a great feeling, time to start breathing again.
In between games I tried to keep my energy up and eat. By 4.30pm I was ready to go again, the last match of the day was versus an athlete from Germany. 40 minutes later it was over for the day and I had another win under my belt, final score 8-2. By now I also knew that Jabe was doing well, we both had won all 3 of our first day matches and on the Saturday had to face each other.
Friday night we sat down for dinner together again, there was a lot less chat, everyone was focused on their own performance and the competition and it seemed everyone wanted an early night. Saturday was not quite such an early start, transport was due at 8.15am with the BC4s on first at 11am then Jabe and I playing each other at 1.30pm.
At this stage Jabe and I were the only BC1 players to have won all of our 3 games, the pressure was on. Whoever won our match was likely to take Gold, we’ve played before, and I think we are evenly matched. I spent the two hours before preparing, in my own bubble. First putting on my skins, doing my stretches and then warming up. During my court practice I was joined by Matt who helped me to focus on the upcoming match. Sarah has been supporting me in competition now for nearly a year and she knows what to say and how to keep my motivation high. Off we went to the call up room, I followed my usual routine of listening to music before coming out onto court. As we arrived at the court the seats along the side were lined with the BC4s, England coaches and family members – no pressure then!
The match began, Jabe had chosen to be red but I took the first end by 1. Second end I threw long and was pleased with my lay up, I took the end by another 1. Time to breathe, I was up but knew with Jabe the score could turn around at any time. The crowd were calling, we both had a lot of support. End 3 Jabe went short and this time got in 3, so going into the final end I needed at least 2 to win. Remembering my routine first, again I went long, my lay up was not quite as good, but good enough, Jabe went for blocking and suddenly I had 5 balls left to avoid a tie break. Nerves hit and I was down to my last ball, it was ‘now or never’. I breathed deep and threw the perfect shot laying up to the jack, final score 4-3. Four games, 4 wins, whoopee.
Just one game was left. If I could win then the gold would be mine. This time I managed 11-0 win. Wow, it was over, my first international gold!!!! And great news, Team BC1 ruled, Jabe had won his last game too so was in silver medal position. Once all the other games were over there were photos, time to lark around, and then medals. I felt I needed someone to pinch me, was it real? My previous best performances had come in May when I got 5th in Prague, and June in Slovakia when I came 4th (my highlight of that event was beating the then BISFED world ranked #7).
Throughout this competition Sarah was amazing and Matt was excellent. He had great feedback after each game, was supportive before each match and made me feel really confident, that I was worthy of winning – Thank you Mr Kendrick.
My head was spinning as we loaded the bus back to the hotel, we went straight into dinner before going to our rooms to change for the party. A nice relaxing bath then down to eat again at the banquet before dancing the night away. Needless to say it wasn’t the earliest of nights, but great to celebrate with everyone.
Sunday morning I woke up asking ‘did I really win gold?’ it seemed like a dream. We were just going to breakfast when Richard found us with news that the transport had been changed, we could stay at the hotel until 3pm (instead of leaving at 10am and spending the day at the airport). We ate and went up to the foyer to say good bye to Jabe and Josh as their flight home was much earlier. We had a quiet morning, ate lunch with Matt and Richard and eventually set off home.
The most eventful part of the flight (apart from the bumpy landing) was when Poznan Airport told us they could load my chair, but we wouldn’t get it back in Doncaster as there was no equipment to unload it, did we want to step off the flight? We decided to take the risk and fly, when we arrived back in Yorkshire we found a fantastic welcome with the smoothest transfer ever off the plane and out of the airport!! We were home by 11pm and I was in bed asleep as soon as my head touched my pillow.
Travel and competition can be tiring. Monday’s I have a 9am lecture at Uni, so I was up by 6.45am. However, with no other commitments for the day when I got back to my flat I rolled back into bed and slept until the middle of the afternoon. I’ll take it easy now until Thursday (no training just lectures Tuesday and Wednesday) when I’ll start back to training in preparation for the GB Championships in 10 days time.
What I’ve learned from 3 internationals is to make sure I’m rested before we leave, to plan for every eventuality, to expect late nights, early mornings and that the food might be very different from home. And, as always thank you to Boccia England who work hard to make sure we are well looked after, taking part has been another great experience.