IF WINNING an Olympic Games gold medal wasn’t the highlight of Nicola White’s sporting career, receiving an MBE was certainly the crowning glory.
The former Saddleworth Hockey Club player and her Great Britain team mates visited Buckingham Palace where Prince William presented the gongs, reward for their triumph in Rio.
Nicola admitted when she took up the sport while a schoolgirl at Hulme Grammar she never envisaged what was the female footballing equivalent of Roy of the Rovers.
The 29-year-old said: “Never in a million years did I expect anything like this to happen.
“I don’t think you could have written something like that happening to a normal girl from Oldham – winning a gold medal, being recognised with an MBE and seeing the sport growing as well.
“That is the message I try and put over to children when I visit schools, that it could happen to them as well.”
Nicola, whose triumph has inspired an influx of new players at Oldham Hockey Club, admitted the legacy from Great Britain’s success is massively important.
Nicola was accompanied to Buckingham Palace by mum Gill and boyfriend Edward Harding.
She was especially pleased Gill was present, explaining: “She was gushing with pride – you could see in her face how happy she was.
“She has been with me every step of the way and, without her, I would never have achieved what I have. She would wait hours in the car after taking me all over the country to training.
“It has also been quite a journey for her as well, but she has loved it. And now she acts as my PA.”
When returning home, Delph was one of the first places she visited to show grandparents Neville and Pamela Rogers the MBE and photographs and video footage from the ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Nicola added it was fitting that Prince William made the presentation as they had previous met previously and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, was a keen hockey player at school and has closely followed the fortunes of the team.
She said: “It was pretty scary queueing up and focusing on getting my curtesy right. After that he gave me a smile, congratulated me, but I still felt nervous during our chat.
“You don’t often get such an honour so young, though, and I was determined to enjoy the experience, and I loved every minute of the day.”
It marked the end of the last Olympic Games cycle and, after a seven-month break, Nicola is back training on the Great Britain programme that will hopefully lead to selection for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
And 2017 it is another big year – Nicola reverts to playing for England – as they compete in the World League semi final in South Africa in Jume.
That is followed by the defence of their European title in Holland and hopefully also a World League final appearance in New Zealand late in the year.
And in 2018 there are the Commonwealth Games to look forward to on Australia’s Gold Coast and England hosting the World Cup.
Nicola, who says she feels reinvigorated after her break, has been back playing club hockey for Kent club Holcombe since Christmas.
And she helped Holcombe become the second of the four teams to qualify for the Investec Finals Weekend and potentially more silverware.
Nicola concluded: “I feel refreshed after the break, and it has made me appreciate what I do as my job even more.
“A number of the girls from Rio have finished so it is exciting to be part of this new team and adventure in the build up to Toyko.”