|IIHF World Girls' Hockey Day as being celebrated in Geleen, Netherlands. Photo courtesy of IIHF Facebook|
Like most Canadian kids, my cousin and I spent our childhoods at the local ice rink. The rink was our playground; our home away from home. Many lunches were eaten at the rink (best hashbrowns I've ever had in my life!) , homework was done with the help of coaches who happened to be passing by, and we had even found a comfy spot under some heating vents in the skate sharpening room where we snuck in the occasional nap. When I wasn't on the ice figure skating I was running to the adjoining rink to watch my cousin play hockey. It's been roughly 12 years since I used to do this but that feeling I used to get when I watched him play - it's a feeling that's still fresh in my mind even today. It was a burning desire and a deep regret. "Why did I have to be born a girl," I'd think to myself. "If I were a boy I could ditch this horribly boring sport of figure skating and snipe some goals in hockey just like the boys I was watching." But I was a girl, and girls don't play hockey. That was what I was told and that was my belief. I was wrong and it cost me my dream. 12 years later, we are celebrating the first annual World Girls' Hockey Day - an initiative of the IIHF that is intended to boost awareness and registration in the sport worldwide. (1) All over the world, young girls are being offered a hockey stick and are being told "Go ahead. Try it." Four words is all it takes to ignite their curiosity and their passion.
Seeing is believing. That's something I've learned watching my young nieces and nephews. They see Miley Cyrus, they become like Miley Cyrus. They see Justin Bieber, they become like Justin Bieber. No offense to either of those two teen stars who I'll admit are talented in what they do, but the new generation of yougsters are "seeing" the wrong things. What they don't need to see is another scantily dressed teen pop star who is making more money than she can count and whose highs require the use of a bong. Why not "see" Cassie Campbell or Hayley Wickenheiser or Tessa Bonhomme or Caroline Ouellette or Angela Ruggiero or Noora Raty or Terhi Mertanen or _____________ (fill in the blank with your favourite women's hockey star). All I needed when I was a little kid running around the rink (hashbrowns in hand) was to see a woman playing hockey. It would have changed everything. You see someone doing what you want to do and suddenly that dream becomes very achievable. That is what parents of young kids need to realize. To them I say this: the work has been done for you. The pioneers of women's hockey have paved the way and they have elevated the sport to the place it is now where it can produce high-level players but where it can also serve as inspiration to your kids. Make sure your kids see it. The name Tessa Bonhomme should be as popular in your household as Miley Cyrus (I'm pretty sure Tessa is a better dancer than Miley. Anyone watching Battle of the Blades can confirm this!). Put your daughters in hockey - it's a sport that builds team spirit, it'll make girls physically and mentally tough, and it'll show them the value of having confidence and a strong work ethic. And trust me, if a girl comes to love hockey as much as I do, that'll be the only high she'll ever need. Don't wait till it's too late. Listen to your daughters - if they show an interest in hockey or any other sport for that matter, don't delay. Give them a chance.
For someone like myself, today is such an exciting day. Tuning in to Twitter and seeing the various WGHD events that are taking place around the world is a relief. It's a relief because I know that my story will be in the minority. These young kids who are participating in events today don't know of a world where women can't play hockey. And that's the way it should be. Women can play hockey. They can play at the Olympics, they can play for Guinness World Records (2), and they can play for fun. All they needed was to see someone else doing it and they did it too. To those who did it first I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. To those who are doing it now I say keep it up. And to those who do it next I say bring your best and own that ice!
Happy World Girls' Hockey Day everyone! May this be the first of many more to come.