Surprised at her selection, University of Johannesburg hockey star Kristen Paton is looking forward to the challenges she will face at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April.
The 21-year-old chiropractic student made her debut for the national team late last year, but thought her inexperience might count against her.
“In all honesty I was really surprised about my selection and am still in awe,” said Paton, who lives in Melville in Johannesburg.
“I knew I had a good year in 2017 and I’d hoped that would get the selectors thinking, but I was well aware that selecting me would be a gamble because of my inexperience.”
She said she had decided not to worry too much about making the Commonwealth Games team, opting just to focus on performing well.
“I’d really put it out of my mind and was just enjoying playing again, really content with the space that I was in. So my selection definitely came as a pleasant surprise.”
Now, having achieved one of her goals, Paton said she was delighted to get exposure at the “biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics”.
“It’s a platform to compete with some of the best athletes in the world and it’s always good to compare ourselves to other nations.
“I also enjoy multi-sport events because you’re exposed to other disciplines but in an environment with like-minded people that allows you to perform and provides everything that you may need.”
Attending the Commonwealth Games, which take place on the Gold Coast from April 4 to 15, was the second tick on her bucket list after making her national debut last year.
“I’m never really satisfied, so with the World Cup later this year I’d love to attend that and make it a picture-perfect year.
“Looking further ahead, the Olympics is another goal but I’m just taking it one step at a time.”
Paton was introduced to hockey at Constantia Kloof Primary in Johannesburg in Grade 3.
“I didn’t really know anyone so my teacher gave me her hockey bag and stick and convinced me to play hockey,” she recalled.
“I fell in love immediately and drove my mom crazy using items in the house as beacons and our lounge as an astroturf.
“It wasn’t until Grade 10 [at Northcliff High] that things started picking up and I made my first provincial team.”
Moving to UJ, Paton said two years under coach Robin van Ginkel provided her with a crucial high-performance environment that she needed for her growth.
“The coaching staff have also played a big role in my development,” she said.
“Funnily enough, the UJ men’s first team coach, Gareth Ewing, invested in me at the age of 16 when he selected me for the Gauteng U21 team and he has been involved ever since.
“I don’t think there’s anyone you can single out – it’s more a collective who have shaped me.”
She said her family had also played a huge role, encouraging her when disappointment struck and “always being the voice that pushes you to keep going”.