Tess Howard is standing in the sunshine beaming and regaled in Team England kit, a far cry from the dark days of this time last year. 

Last June, the 23-year-old from Cambridge felt thoroughly alone - two months into rehabbing an ACL injury that had forced out of Tokyo 2020 and denied her an Olympic bronze medal. 

With her usual teammates away in Japan and then enjoying some time off to celebrate their success, Howard was forced to forge a new, smaller team.

“It was almost like something under my feet had been cut away from me,” Howard said. “Like I was trying to swim and trying to find where my teammates were. 

“But fortunately, I had an incredible team of the fantastic physio and the strength and conditioning guy and those two got me through the rehab, we became our own little team and we really helped each other get through everything.  

“I remember bouncing on the little trampoline with my physio at the beginning of October when no one else was around, and we were like, ‘what are we doing? It's 9am on a Wednesday’ and they got me through it.  

“I felt like I exchanged my team from my hockey team to a rehab team and rightly so because the team had to go and win a bronze medal, that is what they had to do and they did it.” 

Having made her senior debut aged 19, Howard had already caught the attention of the hockey world but bears no bitterness about what could have been in Tokyo. 

Instead, her sunny disposition is clear to see as the midfielder speaks with delight of her hockey team returning to training. 

She added: “It was quite difficult because it was 100 days until the Olympics when I tore my ACL and so the team had to regroup and they had the Europeans and then they had the Olympics and I had surgery and then I had to learn to walk again.  

“It was a very slow process that I couldn't really attach myself to the team much and then we had a big break and so for a lot of my rehab, I was alone. 

“Probably the first eight months, I was alone and then the last few months everybody came back to Bisham Abbey and so I had more support there which was great.  

“Then the momentum started building so the last three months felt like I was really part of the team and I was getting in on tactics and being part of team sessions and being able to run on the sideline whilst they were playing hockey. 

“On one hand, that's really tough to keep running your fitness sessions 10 metres away from people doing actual hockey, but that gave me the extra little fight that I needed and it was really special to have them back.” 

With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Howard hopes sharing her story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.

Another crucial member of Team Tess was her mother Pippa who has been with her every step of her hockey journey. 

And with Howard now set to make her debut at a major Games, it is as much a reward for her mum as it is for her. 

Howard said: “Every time I think of my rehab, I think of my mum. We have built such an incredible bond through this rehab.  

“She's always been my number one supporter, helping me through everything to get to this level, whether that be driving me places, making sure I'm eating the right things or supporting my schoolwork as well. 

“She always said if you love it, go for it and so I never had any second thoughts about going for my dream. And then obviously, she attaches some sort of dream to that as well. 

“So, she was just as heartbroken as me when my ACL happened, but she knew she had to be strong for me and at 3am she was changing my ice machine so that my knee swelling was going down.  

“Even right to the end, the last few weeks of my rehab before my first match against Germany, she was saying how much she believed in me and she's someone that will go above and beyond and we have a very special friendship. 

“It'll be very special. She loves watching sports and watching hockey and she always comes out dressed fully in her St. George's outfit and big red stuff.  

“She'll be very happy, she'll have a giant England and Tess flag which everyone always laughs at but she has no shame.  

“She will have the best time she's already got a place up near Birmingham, so she’s going to get to everything that she can and just lap it all up. 

“It ends a very tough period, but there's always light at the end of the tunnel and it's so wonderful to be in that light now.”