Alex Danson can laugh now. She can also jog a little. A polite term for it, she says, but when she ambles around the field near her home, those short, slow strides feel better than just about anything in the world.
'Heavenly,' she calls it. 'Freedom.' And then a smile that is followed by a sigh because she knows it is progress and she also knows it is sad. She knows where she was and where she is and she can only hope for where she might one day return. She knows the Tokyo Olympics are coming up fast, just 11 months away, and yet the past 11 have been slow and painful.
'It's been so, so hard,' she says. 'Soul-destroying at times.' But now she can jog and that, finally, is something closer to normal.
It is the mundanity of it all that makes Alex Danson's traumatic experience so shocking
For 10 months she couldn't and wasn't. Just as for two months she needed help getting to the bathroom. Just as for six months she couldn't enter a coffee shop or watch television, and for seven she couldn't look at a screen to check emails, and for nine she couldn't go so long as a minute without a headache. They would vary between tolerable and unbearable, but they were always there, every minute of every day. Nine months.
Now, there are hours when it doesn't hurt. Now she doesn't have to wear sunglasses inside or sleep for 15 hours or pass out on the bathroom floor or recoil when her brother laughs. No. That has all improved. Slowly, awfully slowly, and there is still so much to do.
But it has started to get better. And so, with this week having marked the three-year anniversary of Britain winning hockey gold at the Rio Olympics, she can just about grin at the time she laughed and bumped her head on a wall.
It is the mundanity of it that makes Danson's experience so shocking.
'It was on September 1 of last year — the detail is engraved on my mind, or maybe that should be the back of my head,' she says.
Danson, now 34, had just finished the World Cup where England, under her captaincy, had lost in the quarter-finals, so along with her boyfriend, Alex Bennett, she escaped to Kenya for a holiday.They'd been kite-surfing in Watamu when Danson laughed at her partner's joke one evening. 'I threw my head back and just banged it on a wall. It was about the height of my shoulders and so my head hit the top of it flush. Not a car crash, not a fall, not unconscious. I just hit my head on a wall.
Danson hit her head against a wall while laughing at a joke told by her boyfriend Alex Bennett
'I kind of laughed it off awkwardly but knew immediately it wasn't right. That night I woke up every hour. That was the first sign. I had been concussed three times before and was thinking, 'Come on, not on my first big holiday in 18 years'.
'The next morning I made a mistake. I suppose it's a habit of sports people to shrug off an injury, so Alex and I went running. I felt good so I was thinking, 'Great, no concussion'. Then the second we got back to the hotel room everything spun. And that really was the start.
'We had five days left and I felt sick the whole time, massive headaches. On the drive to the airport, I was holding my head in tears. Any time we hit a bump it was horrendous. When we got to the plane, a flight attendant asked Alex if I was even OK to fly. He said I was fine, but you wouldn't believe how it went once we got back.'
Danson is sitting in a chair that is deliberately angled away from direct light in the beautiful home built by Bennett, a property developer, near the market town of Romsey, Hampshire. Her Olympic gold and bronze medals are wrapped in socks in a drawer and no memorabilia is on show from a career that places her as England's most capped current player and the top scorer of any nation at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Danson tells her story while sitting in a chair that is deliberately angled away from direct light
That life has seemed very distant in the past 11 or so months and Danson wants her experiences with what is termed a mild traumatic brain injury to be instructive for others who might suffer head trauma. It is why she is doing this interview, her first with a daily newspaper.
Resuming her story, she says: 'I waited until about the ninth day post-accident to go to a doctor despite constant bad headaches. That was another mistake, as is under-reporting your symptoms, which I did. I set myself up for an almighty crash and I had one a few weeks after getting back.
'I had missed a couple of weeks of hockey and the England squad was working towards the Champions Trophy in November. I set that as a target, which was ludicrous because I had been in an awful state since flying back.
'I would be in the house wearing dark glasses, in bed for 24 hours, sleeping 15 hours. Every second, my head was aching. But I pushed to show I could play, so I went to see the specialist and did a Buffalo test as part of the concussion protocol