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The Future of Women in Sports with Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser Toronto Maple Leafs
Hayley Wickenheiser Toronto Maple Leafs

Hayley Wickenheiser is an Olympic gold medalist, Toronto Maple Leafs coach, mom, and inspiration to girls across the country — showing women that we do belong in sports, and what can happen when you stick to your passion.

As a successful female athlete, what advice do you have for young female athletes?

Be yourself, first yourself. Second, watch the best in the world and try to be a master of your craft. I’ve often heard a phrase like trying to be a great athlete you must be a PhD in your sport. Learn all you can about your sport, watch the best athletes, male or female, and try to copy what they do and take it on and give it your own spin. Don’t listen to the negative or critical opinion of others and I think you must develop thick skin at a young age, it’s especially hard for young girls in high school age groups – as dropout levels are high.

Find friends that enjoy the same interests that you have. It makes it easier when times are tough where you’re being criticized or when school might not think being an athlete is so cool. But I think those days are over. Look at all the young Canadian female athletes out there that are doing great right now. Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu, it’s pretty cool to see that the women doing well for Canada.

What has been the highlight of your sports career?

Highlight of my sports career. I don’t have one. Scoring the gold medal winning goal at the Canada winter games, I was twelve years old. It was the first time I played hockey for Team Alberta. So that was one highlight. I’d say winning a gold medal in Canada and Vancouver, just the whole aura of those Olympics: being a Canadian athlete, carrying the flag, captaining the team all those things. It’s very rare that you get to compete in an Olympics in your home country let alone win a gold medal. So I think that was a highlight.

Everything I have in my life is because of sport and hockey.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a woman in sports, and how did you overcome that obstacle?

The biggest challenge I faced as a woman in sports was to stay strong in my commitment and love for the game of hockey. Even when around me people were saying that girls shouldn’t play hockey you don’t belong. I was getting cut from teams because I was a girl. It was following through. It was believing in myself and staying true to what I wanted to do which was to play the game. So that was probably the biggest obstacle that I faced, and I would say that it’s getting easier now. You can see a young girl with a hockey bag and a hockey stick walk into any rink in this country and nobody is going to look twice. When I was playing and the women before me, that was a very different scenario.

What would you hope to see for the future of women in sports?

For the future of women in sports, I hope to see professional league, especially in hockey. Comparable pay, it doesn’t have to be equal. It’s going to take time to reach the levels that the men make but for sure to be paid and compensated for what you do. I’d like to see mainstream television programming. They’re putting darts and bowling on before they’ll put a world championship in hockey or any other female sport on TV. So broadcasters need to be brave. Advertisers need to invest. I’d like to see that platform elevated. That’s only going to help everybody else.

It’s cool to be a female athlete. You know I’m in medicine and all my friends in med school want to talk about medicine and I talk about hockey all the time. I think being a female athlete is cool and I think it opens a lot of doors. It sets you up to the rest of your life. Everything I have in my life is because of sport and hockey. It gave me the education, it gave me a chance to travel the world. It’s given me my son. It’s given me a lot of joy and of course my health and wellness. We’ve got to keep our kids active. We’ve got to keep young girls in sports. We need to focus on funding at the grassroots level and our amateur sports in this country must follow suit.

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