June 20, 2018

Class of 2018: Hayley Wickenheiser's journey, from backyard rink to Olympic ice to India

Former Dino speaks at Kinesiology reception after receiving UCalgary honorary degree

After her family “lucked into” tickets to see ski jumping at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, 10-year-old Hayley Wickenheiser went home to Saskatchewan and tried to build a ski jump in the hay loft of the family farm.

Fortunately for hockey fans everywhere, she abandoned skis for skates, her dad built a rink in the backyard and Wickenheiser went on to become one of the best female hockey players in the world. She has won five Olympic medals — four gold and one silver — been named one of Sports Illustrated’s Toughest Athletes in the World, and one of news agency QMI’s 10 Greatest Female Athletes in the History of Sports.

At 15, Wickenheiser left the backyard rink to move to Calgary and play with the Canadian Women’s National Team. In the two decades since, she’s logged countless hours at our university gym, played with the Dinos and completed two degrees, and will start medical school at the Cumming School of Medicine this fall. Most recently, she received an honorary Doctor of Laws.

“I have a few honorary degrees. This one is really special and important,” Wickenheiser, BKin’13, MSc‘16, Hon. LLD, told a gathering of alumni, faculty, staff, students and supporters of the Faculty of Kinesiology at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. “I am very proud to have gone to University of Calgary and been a Dino.”

Hayley Wickenheiser played hockey for the UCalgary Dinos during her time as a student.

Hayley Wickenheiser played hockey for the UCalgary Dinos during her time as a student.

To honour Wickenheiser, the Faculty of Kinesiology has set up a scholarship in her name for Dinos athletes. “You are a true force in sport and you inspire all of us,” Dr. Penny Werthner, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology, said at the event.

With her Olympic medals lined up on a table (they’re heavier than you may think), Wickenheiser thanked many people by name, including Werthner. “Penny was my first sport psychologist,” she said. “Oh, the stories she could tell!”

Wickenheiser, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, talked about the Olympics — from the 1988 Games that inspired her, to the 2018 Games where she watched the gold medal game on the Canadian prime minister’s phone, in India. She was in the Himalayas teaching girls and women to play hockey; Justin Trudeau was in Delhi and invited them to meet him.

Trudeau and Wickenheiser ducked out of a cricket match to watch the final women’s hockey game played at the PyeongChang Olympic Games. “We sat side by side and watched the overtime shootout. I thought it was an amazing thing that I was in India for ice hockey watching the gold medal game on a cell phone with the prime minister of Canada. You never know where life is going to take you.”