HELEN Richardson-Walsh flew out to Rio this week with the Great Britain hockey squad relieved that all her hard graft and determination has paid off.

For it was not that long ago when her whole career at the top level looked in jeopardy.

She has suffered back problems for the last 10 years and in recent times was in so much pain she could hardly walk, leaving a big question mark over her future, especially at international level.

Much of the problem was resolved by surgery when it was discovered that pieces of her disc were floating around her spinal cord and pressing on the nerves.

“Two years ago there were real doubts about me getting back on the pitch, let alone getting selected for the Olympic Games,” Richardson-Walsh told the Chronicle. “So even though this is my fourth Olympics, it does still feel a bit special.”

Richardson-Walsh, 34, added: “I’m really proud of getting back into the squad and returning to the standard of performance required at this level of hockey.

“Since returning to the pitch in January of last year I’ve not missed one session and that has always been important to me to have that consistency of training.

“Yes, I have struggled at times with my fitness and I’ve had to work incredibly hard to reach the standard of teammates, but it has all been worth it now I’m on the plane to Rio.”

Richardson-Walsh, who has left Reading Hockey Club along with her partner Kate to play for Bloemendaal in Holland, proved her fitness in the recent Champions Trophy at Lee Valley.

Team GB could only finish fifth of sixth nations, but she scored two goals and was voted her side’s player of the tournament.

“I thought I played pretty well and was happy with my performance, but I admit team results were disappointing,” continued Richardson-Walsh, who away from hockey is studying for a degree in psychology at the Open University.

“We didn’t show the best of ourselves, but we ended the tournament on a high note by beating New Zealand.

“We then defeated Spain in two friendly matches at Bisham Abbey, so that has given everyone a boost prior to Rio.

“I think that all teams among the top seven or eight in the world are capable of beating each other and that should make the Olympics even more exciting.”

Helen and Kate, who both won bronze medals at London 2012, will consider retiring from international hockey once they return from Rio, especially as they plan to play club hockey in Holland for at least the next two years.

Reading’s leading women’s goal scorer Alex Danson, was also on the plane to Rio.

The GB men’s squad, including reserves Simon Mantell and Dan Shingles from Reading, flew out to Brazil on Tuesday.