Gosport-born Gemma-Louise Hillier has always dreamed of representing her country at a multi-sport Games – now that dream has finally turned to reality.
Hillier, 32, has been involved in football for as long as she can remember, playing for Portsmouth for 18 years and becoming the first female player in the UK to be nominated in a men’s hall of fame, writes Ella Jerman.
Soon, her love for beach soccer took over. It may not be the multi-sport event she initially dreamed of competing at, but as Hillier prepares to travel to Doha to represent Team GB in the inaugural World Beach Games, she admits she can’t quite believe how far she has come.
She said: ‘I’ve watched the Olympic Games for as long as I can remember and always had ambition to play there, so when I found out I would be representing Team GB at a multi-sport event I was so proud.
‘I’m the only player in the squad who has played in every single women’s beach soccer fixture, so I think that makes going to the World Beach Games that bit more special because I have been there right from the start.
‘It’s not just for me, but my family, friends and work colleagues who have always supported me. It’s definitely the proudest moment of my footballing career so far.’
Team GB will compete across seven disciplines in Doha, as 97 countries from five continents come together for the Association of National Olympic Committees’ (ANOC) first-ever World Beach Games, taking place from Friday.
Alongside beach soccer, Great Britain will be represented in water-ski, bouldering, kitefoil racing, skateboarding, aquathlon and wakeboard, and for most of the Team GB athletes selected, it will be their first opportunity to compete at a multi-sport Games.
Having been part of the GB women’s beach soccer set-up since the very beginning, Hillier knows this is just the start of something new.
She added: ‘The journey we have been on is incredible.
‘At first, we were wearing the men’s kit, extra-large, hanging down by our ankles, but now we are wearing the same kit as the Lionesses and have our own customised GB kit – it’s so surreal.
‘I’ve grown up as a Portsmouth fan and watching them go from becoming almost extinct to where they are now is my inspiration.
‘It’s integral to my beach soccer experience. When we started there were just five of us, now it’s so much more.’
Hillier will appear for Great Britain against Paraguay in GB’s first ever World Beach Games match in Doha on Friday.
Among her colleagues are Pompey players past and present.
Current Blues Hannah Haughton and Katie James are in boss Perry Northeast’s squad along with Sarah Kempson, Rebecca Barron and Hannah Short.
The inaugural World Beach Games take place in Doha from October 11 to October 16.
Hillier – a PE teacher at Fareham Academy – and her colleague have two other group games against the USA on Sunday and Russia 24 hours later.
The final takes place next Tuesday – three days before Hillier’s 33rd birthday.
Follow the team @TeamGB on social media and at TeamGB.com