Despite a spinal injury to her L1 vertebrae sustained in a fall, McPhee is not afraid to face life and move forward. Refusing to be trapped in self-pity, she has faced her challenges with a remarkable courage, embodying the spirit of the strong women who grace the ice through the participation of ice sledge hockey.
Prior to her injury, McPhee had graduated from hairdressing school and was continuing her education at George Brown College. Studying American Sign Language, she had contemplated working with the hearing impaired. Having also found inspiration in an individual at the Lyndhurst rehabilitation centre that was a great source of support during the early months of her disability, she has ambitions of becoming a social services worker, looking to help other newly disabled people.
One of McPhee’s finest qualities is that she is a giving person. Despite her disability, she has graciously donated her time at the same long-term care residence where her mother is employed. Volunteering in the life enrichment program where she collaborates with an instructor in adaptive Zumba classes, she always projects a positive attitude.
Originally from Sudbury, McPhee now calls Mississauga home, establishing herself as one of the community’s sporting heroes. Starting with the Mississauga Red Dogs, being surrounded by other disabled athletes proved to be effective in adjusting, while building confidence. Having participated in ringette during childhood, ice sledge hockey represented a great opportunity to remain active, as she already possessed the familiarity of competing on the ice, setting the stage for a promising career.
Currently with the Mississauga Cruisers, McPhee also participated in wheelchair basketball. Although sport was not a part of her youth, the chance to compete now has enabled her to forge friendships that may possibly last a lifetime. It also provided her with the opportunity to see how the members of the disabled sports community thrive, as collaborating and sharing are essential ingredients in ensuring that everyone can have fun,
“When I joined the team, I also had experience playing wheelchair basketball. I just enjoyed ice sledge hockey a lot more. Growing up, I was not really athletic but I found that I really enjoyed the sport. There was an individual on the team, Gord Bollert. He took me under his wing and helped me learn the sled. I was the only girl on the team when I joined.
Having teammates that I can call my friends is great. I rely on them for support. This sport has positively changed my life. The first time I got on an airplane, my first road trip, personally, a lot of firsts were due to this sport.”
Throughout her rehabilitation, her hometown roots also played a significant role. Grateful to the friends and family back in Sudbury that organized a benefit, it was a great show of support that McPhee has reciprocated through never giving up. Said benefit was dubbed An Evening for Danica, as organizers raised $38,000, helping to cover medical and surgical costs incurred in Mexico.
Competing at the 2014 IPC ISH Women’s International Cup, the first tournament sanctioned by the IPC, it represented a significant career milstone for McPhee, simultaneously contributing to a great chapter in Canadian sporting history. In Canada’s second game, opposing Team Europe, the outcome was a 6-1 victory which saw Tuyet Yurczyszyn record three assists.
It was only fitting that Yurczyszyn earned one of the assists on Danica McPhee’s first career goal for the national team. Scored in the third period, Corin Metzger would be credited with the other assist. As a side note, Yurczyszyn and McPhee also earned the assists on a second period goal scored by Ashley Goure.
“It was amazing. The nicest part was seeing Team Europe come over to participate. The huge home crowd was great. After the games, we would cry and hug in the locker room. We had grown to be so close. I had never really played team sports that much, so I had never experienced such a connection before.”
Such momentum continued in 2015, when the Canadian team traveled to Buffalo, New York to compete in an exhibition series with the US national women’s team. With the men’s world championships also taking place in Buffalo, the strong feelings of patriotism ran parallel for both teams.
Equally important was the growing feeling of acceptance on the national women’s team. For the first time ever, they had the opportunity to wear official Hockey Canada jerseys. Of note, they were official game-used jerseys that the national women’s team (stand-up) used at the Sochi Winter Games. With the names of the ice sledge hockey players adorning the backs of the jerseys, it represented an exciting and emotional moment, as McPhee recalled,
”That was a good moment. We felt honored. There were game-used jerseys that the national women’s team had worn before. We were searching online for the jersey numbers, to see which players had worn the jerseys before. All of us were told that when you put the jersey up, you put it with the Canada side facing. Respect the jersey.”
While the on-ice glories are events that McPhee shall always cherish, there was also a great personal victory off the ice. Through a series of exercise therapy sessions at the Walk It Off Spinal Cord and Recovery Centre, located north of Toronto, she managed to walk with a walker and leg braces. With her mother on-hand, it only added to the magic of such a milestone. As a side note, McPhee is also behind the wheel, able to drive again, utilizing hand controls in her car. Exemplifying great perseverance and progress, the chance to walk represented the essence of the great strength and courage of McPhee. Able to maintain a remarkable dignity in the face of adversity, she is a role model to all who know her.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from http://www.canadianwomensledgehockey.com/player-bios.html and The Sudbury Star http://www.thesudburystar.com/