Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
A Canadian sports icon told an audience of young women on Friday that the best athletes in any sport – much like in any profession - are the ones who aren’t afraid to make mistakes and choose to follow their dreams, even if it means going against the grain.
It’s advice that has served five-time Olympic medalist Hayley Wickenheiser well throughout her professional career, one that spans 20 years and plenty of adversity, much of it stemming from the simple fact she decided early on she wanted to make a name for herself in a male-dominated sport.
“Go for it. Trust your instincts and believe in yourself when it feels like not else does,” she said.
Wickenheiser, fresh of the national women’s team’s come-from-behind gold medal win at the Sochi Games, was the keynote speaker at the Young Women in Skilled Trades event May 16 at the Arden Park. About 250 female students from the public and Catholic boards attended the educational day to learn about non-traditional work opportunities and network with tradeswomen from across Huron and Perth counties.
The event was organized by the Avon Maitland and the Huron Perth Catholic district school boards in partnership with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship program.
Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, Wickenheiser looked up to Edmonton Oilers greats like Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. At age five, she dreamed about one day playing in the NHL, and she said she was blessed to have parents who were supportive.
"When I wanted to play hockey ... my dad said, okay, no problem, and he built a rink in our backyard, and that's where I learned to play.
“I was allowed to dream.”
Wickenheiser said she wasn’t a “girly-girl” who liked to play with dolls and wear makeup. What she loved was hockey, and on the ice is “where I felt comfortable. That was my safe spot.”
Wickenheiser played minor hockey on boys’ teams until she was 12. She received lots of flak, much of it from the parents of opposing players, she said, adding she learned early on not to listen to the critical thinking of others. Over time she developed a thick skin.
“Life isn’t always easy,” she said, telling the audience not to wish for things to be easy, but for the strength to endure the tough times and stick with what you believe.
That advice came in handy in the year leading up to the most recent Winter Olympics. Wickenheiser and the women’s’ hockey team went through a grueling 45-day boot camp where they trained for 10-12 hours a day. They developed a mental and physical toughness so that nothing they faced on the ice would seem insurmountable.
Still, going into the Olympics with the gold-medal expectations of a country on their shoulders, they knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“But,” as Wickenheiser noted, “anything good worth doing isn’t going to be easy.”
She recalled standing on the blue line during her first Olympics in 1998 in Nagano and watching the Americans celebrate with their gold medals after beating Canada. That moment fueled her desire to be a better player, she said. It also taught her a valuable lesson.
“One game or one failure doesn’t define who you are,” she said, adding every moment in life prepares you for the next one.
Since then, Canada-US has become one of the game’s best rivalries. Wickenheiser said there’s no love lost between the two sides, adding with a laugh, “I like to not like the US.”
Since 1998 Canada has won the gold at every Winter Games, including the overtime thriller against the US back in February.
Wickenheiser said she’s taken pleasure in proving the naysayers wrong throughout her life. But for any women entering the skilled trades, much like she’s done in hockey, they will need to prove themselves and earn the respect of their colleagues and superiors.
Students who attended last week’s event heard from mentors about their career journeys and experiences, and were able to find out what they need to begin doing now to pursue their career goals in a non-traditional industry.
According to Tim Martens, the Catholic board’s Ontario Youth Apprenticeship project leader, companies are experiencing labour shortages and are now thinking differently about who they can attract and retain.
“This change provides opportunities for women to consider a career in the skilled trades,” he added.
Partners like the Stratford and Area Builders Association are ready to hire now, Jeff Piro, Avon Maitland’s Pathways coordinator, noted, telling local media following the event that a career in the trades is far less intimidating than it was even 10 years ago.
He noted, for instance, welders have more personal protective equipment and there are more health and safety regulations, while on construction sites everyone has to help each other and there is less of a need for individual strength.
Piro said he hoped the event leads to more tech education, whether it’s something the youth pursue as a career or just to be more knowledgeable.
“If an apprenticeship comes out of this that will economically help our community,” he added.