Sport

Hockeyroos Player of the Year Jane Claxton on family tradition, using injury to reignite passion for her sport and becoming a ‘crazy dog lady’. By Cindy MacDonald.
Credit: SUPPLIED

Midfield maestro: Jane Claxton, 26, hockey player

When I was younger I played every sport under the sun. I did a lot of cross-country and athletics and swimming but I found that you just got so isolated. So I gravitated towards a team sport and hockey was in my family so I did that. I didn’t know until I moved to Perth that Claxton is actually a name in baseball [with the Claxton Shield], so that’s very interesting.

My dad is a massive hockey lover – he played all levels of state hockey and made the over-60s Australian team as well as coaching a lot of the Australian Hockey League senior men’s teams across the Northern Territory and South Australia. So when we were little my brother and I would spend most weekends watching him play.

I started in Minkey [mini hockey] when I was seven. Similar to me, my brother Matthew, who’s two years older, played all through juniors in state teams and then represented South Australia at a senior level. He got to play for the Australian indoor team last year and also played in the Australia A team a few times in Test matches against the Kookaburras.

I got a scholarship into the Hockeyroos squad in Perth when I was 20 – in 2013. That same year I got to debut against Korea – which was a massive shock because I thought I was just coming over to sit on the bench – and the following year I got to go to the Comm Games and World Cup. So it was a crazy first two years of my Hockeyroos career, winning gold in Glasgow and silver in the World Cup.

The Olympics is definitely a hallmark event, so afterwards you lose a lot of senior players [through retirement] and you face a few years of developing younger players in terms of exposure and experience. That’s probably the period we’re in now, which lines up pretty well with Tokyo 2020. It’s a great time frame to be exposing juniors to senior international hockey. Purely for experience, I think to win a medal at the Olympics you need for more than half your team to have over 100 Test caps [Jane has 150]. So hopefully the Hockeyroos are on track to hit that milestone when Tokyo comes around.

We have high expectations of ourselves and at the Olympics you always want to win a medal. With the quarter-finals, if you lose that one game, you’re out. So it’s definitely a high-pressure situation and probably in Rio we weren’t used to that. But losing in the quarter-finals is something we’ve learnt a lot from. We now know how much we have to value the quarter-final – if you can win that you’re through to the top four and it makes all the round games irrelevant.

I was playing a club game midyear back in Perth and I’d had a tight hamstring leading into it but I didn’t think anything of it. All I did was lunge for a ball and I had this excruciating pain, but I was like, “Oh, it should be okay, I’ll run it out.” The next day I couldn’t walk and I knew it was something serious. I got a scan two days later and they said I’d pulled half of my hamstring tendon off the bone. I’d never experienced something that knocks you out of a major tournament [the World Cup], so that was something new to deal with. But I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and I think potentially I needed that break from hockey to reignite my passion and look at what I’ve done so far in my career and realise how special it is and appreciate it a lot more.

Do I think midfielders sometimes don’t get as much glory? Oh, for sure! But strikers have to have a certain personality where they need all that attention, whereas us midfielders, we just get the job done.

I’m in my last year of studying occupational therapy at Curtin University so the silver lining to being injured and not going to the World Cup was that I got to do one of my pracs for uni. As an elite athlete you don’t get much time to work full-time hours. Hopefully I’ll finish my degree by the end of next year. It’s a long process and you do have to understand that as an athlete if you want something outside of your sport, it’s on yourself to do it and it’s a long process and you have to be quite persistent, otherwise when you quit your sport you have nothing.

Prior to getting two sausage dogs – Harry and Hugo – I didn’t know how much of a crazy dog lady I would be. I got one to start with and at the end of last year I got a second one. I didn’t realise I could love two little, obnoxious, selfish sausage dogs so much. It’s been quite an experience. They provide me with a lot of enjoyment and happiness in my life outside of hockey and are a distraction from the stress of being an elite athlete. It’s probably the decision in my life that I’ve made that I’m most thankful for, even though they do chew up everything in my house and destroy all the nice things.

I’m fortunate to have family members who are all just passionate about hockey so that’s been a driving force behind me being successful. I think a lot of people attribute it to coaches – and I’ve had amazing coaches over the years – but if it wasn’t for Mum and Dad and their desire and knowledge about hockey, I probably wouldn’t have been as interested in it. A lot of the time elite athletes have to credit their parents because they are the ones getting up at 5am to drive their kids to training and tournaments. You don’t realise until you’re older and have to drive yourself at 5am how bad it is.

This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Derby Day

Saturday, 1st race 11.45am (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

Soccer: A-League – Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory

Saturday, 7.50pm (AEDT), McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

Cricket: Australia v South Africa, 1st ODI

Sunday, 11.20am (AWST), Perth Stadium

• Soccer: W-League: Canberra United v Perth Glory

Sunday, 4pm (AEDT), McKellar Park, Canberra

• Motorsport: Malaysian MotoGP

Sunday, 6pm (AEDT), Sepang International Circuit

Horseracing: Melbourne Cup

Tuesday, 3pm (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 3, 2018 as "Midfield maestro". Subscribe here.

Cindy MacDonald
is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.