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Hockey sticks in memory for Rae

Rae Ellis did not need any more family support when the Welsh women's hockey team took to the field against West Germany in Dusseldorf in 1985 - her aunt Anne coached from the touchline and second cousin Shirley was playing at centre-forward.

"I had always wanted to play in an international team alongside Shirley, and the fact Anne was in charge that day makes the memory all the sweeter," she recalls.

"It also turned out to be the highlight of my international career as we won 1-0, which was the first time Wales had beaten Germany for many years."

Twenty years on, the same passion that Rae channelled into an international career which yielded 30 Welsh caps is evident in the way she tackles her role as hockey development officer for Carmarthenshire county council.

Since her appointment in January 2003, she has established a hockey league between eight primary schools in Llanelli and further programmes are planned in the Carmarthen, Amman Valley, Llandeilo and Llandovery areas.

"The response has been superb and there is so much talent out there," said Rae, 44, a busy mother of two from Pontardawe, near Swansea. "What I want most is to track one of my little girls all the way to senior level. I did not pick up a hockey stick until I was 13 but primary-school children in Carmarthenshire can now play the game from the age of eight.

"This is fantastic because it brings us into line with some of the European countries that are leading the way in hockey. The opportunities today are tremendous and girls' hockey is the fastest-growing sport in Wales."

This was not so back in 1973, when the then 13-year-old Rae was a middle-distance runner with Swansea Harriers. Her school, Penclawdd secondary modern, did not play hockey. But when it merged into Gowerton comprehensive, her aunt, Anne Ellis, ended up as her PE teacher and guided her into the sport.

Rae joined the Swansea women's club, became a schoolgirl international at 16 and made her senior debut playing centre-half six years later.

More than 30 years after her aunt's astute intervention, Rae's enthusiasm for hockey is as strong as ever. "It gave me the opportunity to travel, make new friends and have a lot of fun rather than hanging around on street corners.

"And you know what? All these years later I'm still travelling, making new friends and having a lot of fun!"

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