It’s not just about pucks
It’s not just about pucks
Stars like Wickenheiser excel at other sports
Playing multiple sports, especially from an early age, can pay dividends. Youngsters develop broader skill sets and avoid burning out on their primary sport. Ultimately, they get better at whatever they choose to focus on.
Look at the history of USA Hockey. Katie King, whose 33 career Women’s Worlds goals rank second only to Cammi Granato’s 47 among U.S. players, was the Ivy League Softball Player of the Year as Brown University’s pitcher. Alana Blahoski, a member of the 1998 Olympic gold medal team like King, starred at soccer, cross-country, and softball in high school.
It’s not just the Americans. Riikka Valila, Finland’s 42-year-old playmaking ace, has starred in bandy and pesapallo (a Finnish form of baseball). And four time Winter Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser remarkably made the Canadian Olympic softball team for the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000.
What does it take to pull off a feat like Wickenheiser’s? Let’s take a look back at what she did. It’s a tale of perseverance and a valuable reminder to make the most of your youth.
The following article by Lucas Aykroyd originally appeared in an edited form in Sports Illustrated for Women in early 2000, while Wickenheiser was still vying to nail down her Olympic softball roster spot.
It’s anybody’s guess how many frequent flier miles Hayley Wickenheiser will rack up this year. The hockey superstar has already logged more than 20 flights across Canada and the United States since September 1999.
Recently, she was playing center for Team Canada in pursuit of her fourth world championship in Mississauga. Two weeks later, she flew to Australia, traded in her skates for cleats and her stick for a mitt, and suited up with the Canadian national softball team for a pre-Olympic tournament. “I only spent three weeks at home in Calgary this winter,” Wickenheiser says. “If I’m not travelling for hockey, I'm travelling for ball.”
If all goes as planned, she will join an elite sorority of women who have competed in both summer and winter Olympics. The list includes American Connie Carpenter Phinney and (former) East German Christa Luding-Rothenburger, both speedskaters and cyclists, and Canadian Sue Holloway, a cross-country skier and kayaker, among others.
“Doing the double would be a huge accomplishment,” says Wickenheiser. “It’s a challenge for me to see if I can compete in softball, but I love playing under pressure.”
The pressure hasn’t gotten to her yet. A utility player who favors shortstop, Wickenheiser, 21, survived the first round of cuts at a February selection camp in San Diego, which reduced the national team roster from 23 to 17 players. The final cut in early May will bring that down to 15.
“This was the best camp I’ve had with the national team so far,” says Wickenheiser, who started playing softball at age seven. “I feel more confident than I ever have.” This year, she’ll play more than 50 games with the Olympic team, Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, where she’s majoring in kinesiology (via correspondence), and an Edmonton club.
Time management skills help her juggle two sports. “Every two weeks I’m either in Vancouver or Calgary,” Wickenheiser says. “When I’m in Vancouver, my main focus is softball, and I train at SFU with the team. I play ball in the morning, study all day, and practise hockey at night with the men’s Thunderbird team at the University of British Columbia. When I come back to Calgary, I focus on hockey, but I continue to practice and play ball.”
Her work ethic and attitude have been integral to her success as a ball player. “She’s a sponge for information and a tireless worker,” says assistant coach Mike Renney. “I’d love to have seventeen Hayley Wickenheisers on my team.”
Athletically, the stellar hand-eye coordination and quickness she's developed at the rink assists her on the field. The most difficult thing for her is getting used to hitting something flying through the air instead of across the ice. “Waiting for the right pitch and powering through on the ball are things I need to work on,” she says. She’s been honing her home runs by working out with Marty Murphy, a top pitcher in Calgary.
Regardless of her softball status, she has big hockey plans. The 5’9”, 170-pound dynamo may join the expansion Vancouver Griffins of the 10-team National Women’s Hockey League in October after the Olympics. Her long-term focus is avenging Canada’s 3-1 loss to the United States in the 1998 Olympic gold medal hockey game.
Wickenheiser believes her softball experiences will make her a better hockey player. “Softball has taught me a lot about patience and timing,” she says. “It’s also allowed me to see what it's like to be on the bubble.” But it doesn’t look like Wickenheiser’s bubble will burst any time soon. Wherever her Olympic dreams take her, she’ll fly high.
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