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Injury made Olympics dream a long haul
Ashleigh Nelson - ready for battle at the Olympics. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian

Ashleigh Nelson admits to a warped sense of humour with her favourite television shows including offbeat comedies such as Black Books, Arrested Development and 30 Rock.

For her, it's an obvious distraction from some very serious business - scoring goals for the Hockeyroos at her first Olympic Games.

And it has also kept the 25-year-old striker grounded as she battled to make the team for London.

Nelson, one of the most dangerous scorers in international hockey, had a knee reconstruction when she was 17 and recently patella tendonitis flared in the same joint.

Asked if her Olympic dream was seriously threatened, she said: "Absolutely. There was a level of uncertainty about whether I would be able to do the training to reach the necessary fitness."

But a rare treatment, when a sample of her blood was separated and the plasma injected into the tendon, combined with a modified training program fixed the problem .

It's been a tough road but that is nothing new for the girl who grew up on a mixed grain farm outside Wagin, learning to throw around a stick in a strong country hockey region where the women are often expected to play against men.

So it's no surprise, she says, that more than half the Hockeyroos, whether they are from WA or interstate, come from the bush.

Nelson grew up in a hockey family with two elder brothers, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and father all playing the game. "My parents names are Robyn and Robert. It's easy to remember but I call them the Robdogs," she said.

After boarding at Santa Maria College, Nelson has been a star of the WA Diamonds in the Australian Hockey League and won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Now a senior player, the occupational therapist said the Hockeyroos were determined not to stop at a medal in London.

Fighting fit: She's beaten a knee reconstruction to get to the Olympics and star Hockeyroos striker Ashleigh Nelson, of Wagin, is not about to let the 'pool of death' get in the way of a gold medal. Picture: The West Australian/ Ian Munro

"We have depth in the group and everyone is stepping up to the plate," she said after training yesterday on a blue artificial pitch at Shenton Park laid specially to replicate the London playing surfaces.

"We have a goal to return Australia to the top of the rankings."

The Hockeyroos, ranked seventh, are in the so-called "pool of death" against Argentina (second), Germany (third), New Zealand (sixth), the US and South Africa.

"Every game is hard," Nelson said, and the team must finish in the top two to make the medal rounds. But nothing seems to faze Captain Flash or Skippy, nicknames she earned for her striking ability and a running style in which she holds her hands like a bounding kangaroo.

For an athlete who is prepared to face thunderbolts of 100kmh-plus on a hockey field, she admits to being scared only of bungee jumping.

"There's something about diving headfirst into nothing," she said. And she also won't reprise her entry last year into the WA heats of Miss Universe. "No more of that … I couldn't balance in the high heels," she laughed. "I think I'll stick to what I'm good at."

And that's scoring goals.