Sam Ward has been named in Great Britain’s Olympic squad – 19 months after sustaining a horrific eye injury he thought would end his career.
Striker Ward, 30. suffered a shattered eye socket, seven facial fractures and a torn retina – leaving him effectively blind in one eye – in November 2019.
He returned to the GB training programme in 2020, and has now been named in Danny Kerry’s squad for Tokyo.
Laura Unsworth will be part of the women’s squad defending their title.
Defender Unsworth, 33,will be appearing at her third Olympics.
Maddie Hinch, Susannah Townsend, Giselle Ansley, Hollie Pearne-Webb, Shona McCallin and Lily Owsley – who won gold alongside Unsworth in Rio – are also selected again.
Ward, meanwhile, is joined by fellow Rio Olympians David Ames, Ian Sloan and captain Adam Dixon, with Scotland striker Alan Forsyth among the reserves. Goalkeeper Ollie Payne, who made his debut in October, is a surprise inclusion.
“I’m lost for words and incredibly proud,” Ward told BBC Sport.
“Now the biggest thing for me is to get around to thank absolutely everyone for what they’ve done in this journey. There are so many pieces to the puzzle who have made such a difference to me.”
GB men’s squad: David Ames, Liam Ansell, Brendan Creed, Adam Dixon, Jacob Draper, James Gall, Chris Griffiths, Ollie Payne, Phil Roper, Liam Sanford, Rupert Shipperley, Ian Sloan, Tom Sorsby, Zach Wallace, Jack Waller, Sam Ward. Accredited reserves: Alan Forsyth, Harry Martin. Travelling reserves: Will Calnan, George Pinner.
GB women’s squad: Giselle Ansley, Grace Balsdon, Fiona Crackles, Maddie Hinch, Sarah Jones, Hannah Martin, Shona McCallin, Lily Owsley, Hollie Pearne-Webb, Izzy Petter, Ellie Rayer, Sarah Robertson, Anna Toman, Susannah Townsend, Laura Unsworth, Leah Wilkinson. Accredited reserves: Amy Costello, Sarah Evans. Travelling reserves: Sabbie Heesh, Jo Hunter
‘They put four plates and 31 screws in’
Ward sustained his horror injury when he was struck in the face by a ball during an Olympic qualifier against Malaysia. He had surgery 10 days later.
“I was cut from ear to ear across the top of the head, they peeled back my face and put four plates and 31 screws in, then stapled me back together,” he said.
Later that day he was told the loss of sight in his left eye was permanent.
“I sat there and cried,” he said. “I rang my dad and he started crying too. As much as I love my mum, imagine trying to tell her you’ve lost central vision in your eye. So I asked my dad to ring and tell her because I couldn’t face doing it.”
Ward took time away from hockey and started to “become comfortable” with what life without it would be like, but after a meeting with physio Sophie Weaver, “something switched”.
“Anyone who knows me knows I like a challenge,” he said.
“I’ve been given everything. My parents have supported me, and my friends have. I’ve been lucky enough to play international hockey. I would regret it if I didn’t give it another chance.
“It was at that moment I said: ‘Let’s do it.'”
‘I feel like I’m indestructible now’
Ward returned to competitive action with Great Britain in the FIH Pro League matches against Germany and Spain in May 2021.
He was sporting a face mask to protect what he describes as “the most precious thing in the world” – his right eye.
He said: “I took the attitude of: ‘I got hit by that and all that happened was this?!’ I feel like I’m indestructible.
“Early on, a ball came back off one of the goalkeepers and I just headed it. Everyone was like: ‘Is he OK?’ I thought it was hilarious.”
Ward says his playing style has always been “based on bravery” and that the injury has not changed that.
“I know I need to bring that,” he said. “I’ve had so much support, so I need to go out and be the person I am and to offer everything I can to the team.”
Ward was part of the GB squad that failed to make it out of the pool stage at Rio 2016.
There is a sense now of aiming to right that wrong, but Ward’s new perspective gives a different outlook on the Tokyo Games.
“You never know what’s around the corner – you could be finished in a matter of seconds,” he said.
“It’s a case of go out and be the best version of yourself and do the best you can. That’s the main thing.
“The last teary phone call to my parents, I told them I lost an eye. This time, I told them I was selected for an Olympics.”