Hockey Hall of Famer and four-time Olympic gold medal winner Hayley Wickenheiser told a packed campus gym anything is possible for people if they put the work in and are passionate about their dreams.
Wickenheiser, 41, shared her inspirational story Wednesday as part of a celebration of International Women’s Day 2020, which is March 8.
She told a crowd of Durham College and Ontario Tech students she decided she wanted to play hockey after seeing her father play when she was growing up in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan.
“One day I said to my dad I’d like to play hockey,” she says.
Wickenheiser says her parents believe a girl can do anything a boy can. They also believed she should be active in several sports.
Her father built an outdoor rink in the backyard for her, her brother and sister and they had 30 kids in their neighbourhood and they’d spend their time playing there.
Growing up she admired Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, fellow hockey hall of famers, who were leading the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty of the 1980s.
“I would do everything I saw Gretzky and Messier do on Hockey Night in Canada,” she says.
Wickenheiser spent three-four hours on the outdoor rink every night.
Her mom was the one who delivered the news that women’s hockey had been added as an Olympic sport in 1992, to officially begin play in 1998.
“It was at that point that I knew that my life would never be the same, like that’s exactly what I was going to do,” she says.
Wickenheiser started on the national team at 15 and stayed there until she retired in 2017.
She believes playing other sports like softball, volleyball and badminton helped her become a successful professional athlete.
“I was very well-rounded, I didn’t play hockey 12 months a year. I also played softball,” she says.
In fact, she competed for the national softball team in the 2000 Summer Olympics.
She still considers herself a student-athlete because she’s a currently medical student at the University of Calgary and also works as an Assistant Director of Player Development with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
She started medical school at age 39 and had people telling her she’s too old to go return to education, but she doesn’t believe it.
“You’re not meant to live in a box, school may or may not be for you and so I just really want you to understand and not feel that pressure,” she says.
Wickenheiser says there are lots of different ways to accomplish whatever it is you want to do if you’re willing to work hard and adapt.
Emily Glendinning, a two-sport (basketball and softball), student-athlete at Durham College, is amazed how Wickenheiser was able to get a degree during her playing career in 2013 and is now heading into her last year of medical school at the University of Calgary at age 41.
“It shows you that anything is possible, if you’re committed to what you’re doing you’ll always be happy at the end. She worked hard during her hockey career and she’s working hard academically while also working for the Leafs,” Glendinning says.
What Wickenheiser says she is most proud of is that she was able to have a lot of success coming from a small town in Saskatchewan, proof that anything can become reality regardless of where you come from.
“For all of you young women whether it’s hockey or any other sport that you play or anything you do in your life, you won’t hear as much ‘there’s a girl in the rink, get out of here’ that doesn’t happen as much anymore, everyone is equal,” she says.
She says the sky is the limit for women in sport in terms of opportunities, whether as an athlete, working in management, public relations or marketing or as an official.