As the belated 2020 Olympics get underway in Toyko, one of Penguin’s Olympians, Frankie Snell, looks back at her time with the Club and with the Team GB women’s water polo squad at London 2012.
I can remember my very first Penguin water polo training session. Tt was a cold autumnal evening in 2007 and I was lost in the maize of tunnels you had to conquer before finding the pool in the basement of the Shell Centre. I was just 20 years old and had recently arrived in London from New Zealand.
It was an easy decision to join the Penguin club,. A few older NZ players were already members so I was looking forward to seeing familiar faces when I nervously turned up to that first session. I had nothing to be concerned about though. Right from the start with Shakey and the girls, I felt the strong sense of family and community within the Club.
That feeling carried with me over the following six years playing not just for Penguin, but professionally for clubs in France and Spain, and at the London 2012 Olympic Games with Team GB. I was born and grew up in NZ with a kiwi dad and English mother, hence having eligibility to compete for both nations.
I was the youngest in the Penguin team when I joined. I had a lot to learn from the older more experienced players and not just in the pool! They instantly took me under their wing and looked out for me throughout my time playing in Europe. This is my greatest memory and appreciation of being part of the Penguin Club, the lifelong friends I’ve made. We’re from all over the world, a lot of us now living back in our birth countries, but we’re still close and keep in touch from afar.
I must admit the friendships were bonded not just in the pool, but also in the pub. Our weekends away for national league games were always work hard, play hard. We would battle it out in the pool during the day and then enjoy the local night life until the wee hours before being back in the pool first thing the next morning.
I have very fond memories of playing for Penguins at the LEN Trophy tournaments round Europe. We weren’t quite up to the standard of the fully professional club teams we were playing against, but we always fought hard, had the biggest smiles on our faces and definitely had the most fun!
I played for Penguins for a couple of years before a season for ASPTT Nancy in France. From France I moved up to Manchester in 2009 to join the Team GB squad in preparation for London 2012, on moving up there I made sure my home club stayed as Penguins.
Competing at the Olympic Games was obviously a dream come true for me, a truly unforgettable, totally amazing experience, but it was also the hardest, most disappointing time in my life.
We went into the Olympics as massive underdogs, we weren’t expected to medal but within our team we had full belief that we could, and would!
In the weeks leading up to the Olympics we’d drawn with top countries Russia and Spain (the eventual silver medalists) so we knew within our squad that we could do it. That’s why when the final whistle blew on our quarter final match and we’d lost against Spain by one goal in the last minute of the match, it was so utterly disappointing and heart breaking. To have your dream of medaling at an Olympics – everything you’ve worked towards for years – squashed in an instant by one blow on a whistle.
We went to hell and back throughout our training in Manchester, pushed to our absolute limit physically and mentally so words can’t describe how broken we all felt. I still struggle now actually, almost 10 years later, when I think about how different everything would have been if we’d won that one match, if I’d made that one block or scored that one shot. All our games are up on Youtube but I haven’t yet been able to watch them back.
The whole Olympic experience was an extreme rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. We lost four out of our six games by one goal… one goal…
It was so hard to deal with but on the flip side, I had the most incredible experience. Being part of the home nation Team GB with all of the support behind us was the best feeling. The athlete village was amazing, I could’ve lived there forever (all the rumours you’ve heard about the village are true!).
The opening and closing ceremonies were so much fun and real ‘dream come true’ moments.
We went to Buckingham Palace and met the Queen. The countless parties after the event and the athlete parade through the streets of London were all some of the best times of my life.
It was a true honour for me to represent the Penguin Club at the Olympic Games. The support I felt by the whole Penguin family not only during the actual tournament but in the years before during the grueling preparation was immense. Being a part of the Penguin family is a very special part of my water polo journey.
I’m now very happily living back in NZ with my partner Rich Chambers, also a fellow proud NZ-Penguin water polo player, and our 1 year-old daughter Cleo.
We would absolutely love to be at the Penguin 100 Anniversary Dinner next year but this is unfortunately looking unlikely. I can remember dancing the night away at the 90th Anniversary Dinner ten years ago so I hope this next celebration is just as spectacular!
Use the tag at the top of this post to read the brilliant blog that Frankie wrote in 2012 documenting her journey to the London Olympics.
This article is part of our Penguin 100 Stories, a series of stories from Penguins past and present, recording what being a member of our Club means to them as we celebrate the Club’s centenary.