shelley russel hockey south africa interview

February 2017. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Cover: Shelley Russell - courtesy of: Rhulani Maluleka.

Sport and fitness has always been a passion for South African field hockey player Shelley Russell. Having been introduced to hockey at the tender age of six, Shelley has gone on to represent South Africa in the Commonwealth Games as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Now heading up the Investec Hockey Academy, Russell aims to influence the lives of young hockey players to take the sport even further. We spoke to Shelley about her career thus far, what it takes to become a national player and how sometimes all you need to balance life is a glass of Chardonnay.

Please tell us a little about yourself and when the passion for hockey developed?

Shelley Russel:I grew up in a family that was very active in sports, and had the influence and support from a very young age. I played lots of sport throughout my childhood and was introduced to hockey in Grade 1 at Auckland Park School. I loved the demanding athletics of it as well as the social aspects.

I then went to Saint Mary’s School for Girls in Waverley. This proved to be a conducive environment for the development of my hockey skills. In 2006 I was awarded national colours in my first year of my tertiary studies at the University of Stellenbosch.

“...I thrive on the challenge of big tournaments...” - Shelley Russel

Becoming a Protea must require tremendous dedication, what has been your routine and schedule to keep fit and still make time for a private life?

Shelley Russel:I really think that keeping fit and healthy becomes a way of life, and almost a habit. Whenever I have a few days without some physical activity, I feel almost compelled to go out for a 5 km run, or game of squash or tennis, or something of the sort.

I also find that physical fitness is not enough on its own, and I find the need to keep my stick skills oiled during breaks from the hockey season. Fortunately, there are summer social hockey leagues aplenty all over the country, but particularly up in Gauteng. I tend to enjoy training with some of the men’s lower leagues, and find the pace and skills of the men’s game particularly advantageous to honing my stickwork and off-loading speed.

As far as balancing this with a social life is concerned, there is no problem with combining a good session of sweat with a few glasses of Chardonnay in the clubhouse afterwards. On many an occasion, I would have completed my Summer Mixed League match, and already well into a glass of after-match refreshment, when someone would run into the clubhouse and announce that their team was a player short, and call for a volunteer replacement.

I was always happy to go out and fit in with a new team, meet new people, and generally combine fitness with fun! In February I am getting married, and relocating to KZN. My fiancé, Craig, is also a keen sportsman, but specifically with cycling and Mountain Biking events, so no doubt this will also form part of my cross-training routine. Who knows, post-hockey I might be tempted to join him on one of his Sani-2-C or Cape Epic expeditions!

You have traveled quite extensively through your sport, which international venue is your favourite to play at and why?

Shelley Russel: It is true that I have been to some interesting places, and it is no secret that I really love touring, and travel in general. Rather than having a specific place as my favourite, I would say that my favourite place is wherever the Olympics are, or the Hockey World Cup, or Commonwealth Games events.

I thrive on the challenge of big tournaments, and love being part of a greater entity, ie. representing SA as part of Team SA at multi-disciplinary events. At the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, for instance, our hockey side got on extremely well with the Men’s rugby Sevens “Blitzbokke”. They came to watch one of our matches, and we were only too happy to reciprocate by supporting them all the way through to their Commonwealth Gold Medal.

We played a Women’s Hockey World Cup tournament in Rosario, in Argentina, and although a relatively remote area, the passion for sport and hockey amongst the locals was amazing. The vibe at all the hockey matches was indescribable – almost like being at a Football World Cup match.