Hayley Wickenheiser: Leading By Example
Inspiration Hayley Wickenheiser, member of the International Olympic Committee, four-time Olympic gold medal champion, and first woman to ever score in a men’s hockey league seeks to inspire women.
Mediaplanet: What was the most challenging part of your career?
Hayley Wickenheiser: There have been many challenges along the way and different periods have been challenging for different reasons. When I played overseas, it was a challenge not to have my extended family around, to play where I wasn’t always welcome, to face the challenges of settling into a new routine both on and off the ice in a language not my own was a huge challenge. Last year was an enormous challenge because our teams went through a great deal of adversity before arriving at the OlympicsIn 2010, I faced more personal adversity. In 2006 it was something different.
Each of those phases of my career also had great joys too. I try not to focus on the challenge. Challenges are nothing more than opportunities to gain experience and wisdom.
“Challenges are nothing more than opportunities to gain experience and wisdom.”
MP: You dedicated your life to a sport where men dominate air time — how did that affect you? How did
you overcome that?
HW: The reality is that most of the time when you play women’s hockey, you toil away in anonymity except for about three weeks every four years during the Olympics.
How it affects all of us is at the bottom line: most female hockey players must maintain a full-time or part-time job for all but a few months before the Olympics because the sponsorship dollars are very limited. They are limited because the opportunity for exposure may be limited because the players aren’t getting the air time I have been fortunate to find a way to make hockey at least a portion of how I make a living, but I am among the very, very few women who can do that and I have to run all over the world doing speaking gigs to make it work.
MP: Men’s NHL games are aired on TV far more than women’s — how do you feel about that? How do you think we can change this?
HW: However slowly, it is changing. More of our national team games get aired during non-Olympic times. When people do watch the game, I think they are often surprised at the physicality of it. . Just because women’s hockey is non-hitting, does not mean it is non-contact. I think people are also surprised by the shear speed of the game. Women, because we don’t ‘hit’ focus a great deal more time and effort on stick-handling, footwork etc. to dominate the puck.
We change the airtime by giving the broadcaster a good product to sell! The more girls play, the better the game is overall, so I think there is a grassroots component of it.
MP: What was your experience like in the men’s league? What was the biggest challenge, and how did you handle it?
HW: Like anything, it had its challenges and it had its rewards. I met some really wonderful people on my journeys and was able to provide some great life experience for both my son and I.
Probably the biggest challenge was dealing with people’s perception of having women on the teams. A few of my own teammates and my opponents made it clear that they felt I was out of my league at times and I often had a target on my back, but I found the best way to change their perception was just to get the job done. Play harder. Train harder. And I did. They respected that.
MP: What was your biggest take-away from playing in the men’s league? How did you make the most of it?
HW: The whole reason I opted to play in a men’s league was to challenge my physical self and my skills, otherwise it would have been pointless. I learned some amazing skills that I couldn’t have learned if I had only ever played in the women’s game. I also learned to trust my instincts.
MP: What advice do you have for women looking to pursue a career in any male-dominated industry?
HW: Probably my first advice would be not to focus on whether or not it is traditionally “male” or “female” industry and just do what you love. Don’t determine your work ethic according to those around you – let it come from within.
“I found the best way to change their perception was just to get the job done. Play harder, train harder. And I did.”
MP: What are the best ways to encourage girls to go after their biggest dreams?
HW: SHOW THEM!!!! Be an example of going after your dreams.
MP: How can we encourage more girls to enter industries that are male-dominated, such as sports, engineering, or the trades?
HW: Give them opportunities, empower them to follow their dreams, and then get the heck out of the way!
MP: What gave you the confidence you needed in the most difficult times of your career?
HW: I have a great support system that includes my son, my immediate family, extended family and friends. It is hard to not to believe in yourself when all those people believe in you.
MP: What do you think we can do as a society to improve the conversation surrounding women?
HW: That is simple: continue a conversation. . I don’t think we are far off in terms of making opportunities available One day it won’t even need to be a “conversation”; it will just be. Perhaps where we are lacking now is expectation and exploitation and that is where we need to keep talking and setting higher standards for ourselves and for society.
MP: What kind of impact can you have for women in sport now that you are on the IOC?
HW: I don’t see it as a male vs. female thing. I see it as a sport thing. I think that inevitably the influence that is afforded to you by being on the IOC is certainly an opportunity, but again, I would just show young women the opportunities available and empower them to make their own decisions based on what they want compared to what others expect of them.
MP: What does life after look like for you?
HW: I am hoping to one day attend medical school. For now, I continue to play and study. I will start my Masters in September and I am studying for my MCATs right now. I hope to use my eventual medical background as a support to playing a role in amateur sport in a policy and practice framework within the international community.