This International Women’s Day we are celebrating Chief Technician Jennie Anstey, who has been in the RAF for 20 years as an Avionics Technician. Having served all over the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq, Jennie’s most recent deployment has been within the UK assisting with the vaccination effort. Jennie tells her story of organising ice hockey Learn to Play events to bring more people into her sport as well as being a proud team member of the only female military ice hockey team.
“I have always been sporty and enjoyed keeping fit but upon posting to RAF Cosford I decided to try out ice hockey with my local RAF Team. This was prior to the introduction and promotion of Learn to Play events so I was really thrown in at the deep end. I took a course of intensive skating sessions so I could at least remain upright…that was of course until a stick and puck was involved. I turned up to my first session in borrowed kit about three sizes too big and a pair of skates from the 1980s. I have to admit it was intimidating and I was totally out of my depth as the only female playing with six foot plus experienced male skaters. Regardless of this I had an absolute blast and enjoyed every minute.
After around a year playing ice hockey the RAF Aces team were invited to play in a tournament in Canada, unfortunately this was a male only tournament, but they did have a separate women’s class. I was asked by the Association to recruit for a ladies team to be able to compete in the next tournament four years away. This was quite a daunting task as there were only four females across the RAF at this time playing ice hockey, so I needed to start from the basics. This began with one day taster sessions that were extremely popular and five years down the line we have a Pumas squad of over 20 regular players. The RAF Pumas are currently the only military female ice hockey team, so our main focus is playing against Women’s League teams while we wait for the Army and Navy to catch up!
I have been organising Learn to Play camps for the past five years to introduce new players to the sport in a fun and friendly environment. I am supported by great coaching and admin assistance from other members of the RAF Ice Hockey Association, some who have even come through the Learn to play programme. Ice hockey can be a really expensive sport to get into with an initial outlay for equipment around £500 even before the cost of training sessions. The support from the RAF Central Fund has been pivotal to the success of these camps, allowing purchase of protective equipment and funding the cost of ice rink hire, making the sport accessible to all. To date over 200 personnel have been able to experience the sport, with many now playing at their regional clubs growing the Association. Even for those who do not take up the sport, the camps are beneficial in providing a few days of down time from hectic operational schedules and mixing with personnel from the wider RAF. We really have had every branch, trade and rank, from Padres to pilots and from ACs to one stars.
A big thank you to the Central Fund as the Pumas jerseys were also subsidised through one of their grants and you have to admit, they are the best-looking jerseys in military ice hockey!
On a personal level, I have benefitted from subsidised entry fees for RAF Champs and Tri-Service tournaments, as well as Pumas training camps and games. A big thank you to the Central Fund as the Pumas jerseys were also subsidised through one of their grants and you have to admit, they are the best-looking jerseys in military ice hockey! I have also been awarded three Central Fund Sports Grants which I have used to purchase skates and protective equipment; this has enabled me to donate my old equipment to the Learn to Play sessions to get even more people on the ice. The Individual Sports Grants are vital to my sport and without them many would find it inaccessible; the grants are fantastic as even as a beginner who has recently started playing you are eligible to apply.
Sport in the RAF is vital to promote good levels of fitness and to build teamwork, morale and improve mental health. This was especially important during Covid where social interactions were limited but the friendships that I had made through sport remained strong; even when the on-ice sessions were cancelled the group chat was alive with humour and future plans. I have met some amazing and inspirational people that I would not get to mix with in my day-to-day job.
This support wouldn’t be possible without the Sports Lottery. I play so that I can help with funding for all RAF Sports, to make it accessible to as many as possible so that they can have the same opportunities and experiences that I have been afforded…and of course the chance to win that illusive jackpot!”
Chf Tech Jennie Anstey
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