WIGAN’S Karen Atkinson has spoken of her delight after being awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours.
The 35-year-old has been recognised for her services to netball.
A former St John Fisher and St John Rigby College student, she was part of the England squad for a record 17 years, playing in 122 international games.
And she revealed she had to keep her honour a closely guarded secret from family and friends for more than a month.
She said: “It was a bit of a shock, and once that wore off, I was really proud and excited.
“I got a letter at the end of November, asking me whether I would accept it.
“My husband was there when I opened it, but it asks you not to tell anyone so we had to keep it a secret from our family and friends.
“It was only when I saw my name on the Sky Sports News ticker I thought, ‘I can tell people now’.
“I’ve had a lot of texts and calls, and messages on Facebook and Twitter, congratulating me. It’s been really nice.”
Atkinson, formerly Aspinall, is yet to discover when she will make the trip to Buckingham Palace to receive her honour.
She has visited before during her duties as captain of the England team.
She played in four Commonwealth Games, her first aged just 18, winning three bronze medals during a playing career which included domestic stints in New Zealand and Australia.
She said winning her 100th cap, against Jamaica, was the highlight of her playing career. Incredibly, she was not the only Wiganer in the England set-up – former Winstanley College student Sara Bayman is the current vice-captain of the national team.
Atkinson now lives in Loughborough and coaches Super League side, Hertforshire Mavericks.
She was expecting her first child this week.
“I’m enjoying being a coach,” she said. “It’s harder in many ways, because you’re looking after a whole squad rather than just looking after yourself, but it’s really satisfying.”
Former rugby league referee Stuart Cummings, once a PE teacher at Up Holland High, was also honoured with an MBE.