Universally regarded as one of the most talented ever to grace the ice, Jayna Hefford remains embedded in the game’s mythology. Always reverential, her impact as a role model off the ice is complemented by a proud presence donating her time on the board of the Not for Profit foundation that has brought positive impact in the Canadian women’s hockey community, the Ladies First Hockey Foundation (LFHF).
Such admirable efforts only add to Hefford’s legend, which includes over 200 international appearances and over 100 international goals (of which the game-winning goal was scored in her 200th appearance for Canada). In addition to her role with LFHF, she has also been affiliated with the likes of CanFund and Right to Play.
During the spring of 2012, a poignant moment for Hefford resulted in visiting members of Canada’s Armed Forces stationed in Afghanistan. Of note, her superlative work as a hockey humanitarian has also included hosting an annual charity golf event in her hometown of Kingston. Known as the Links4Life Golf Classic, honoring the memory of her father Larry, the Kingston Cancer Centre are the beneficiaries of the proceeds raised.
Inheriting the role on the Ladies First board from Cheryl Pounder, whose tireless work truly set a gold standard, Hefford is joined on the board by the likes of Peter McCarthy, Brad Morris, Peter McWhirter, Brian McComb and Sally Pirri. In such a leadership role, their collective effort is to propel the overall development of Canadian women’s hockey. Such dedication is exemplified by the fact that Ladies First has successfully raised over $1.5 million since 2002, establishing a solid future for the women’s game.
While the 2014 Sochi Winter Games would serve as Hefford’s legendary swan song, making her one of only four iconic Canadian athletes to gain gold in four straight Olympic competitions, it affirmed her standing as one of the most consistent superstars the game has ever known. An opportunity to serve with the LFHF was an important bridge, representing a personal and professional transition in her storied life.
“During the 2014-2015 season, I was not playing as I was pregnant with my son. There was an open board seat (that was previously held by Cheryl Pounder). The board asked if I would be interested in helping at that level. I was thrilled to be able to help, as I am very grateful for all the support I had from LFHF during my playing career. It was also a way to stay involved with the team on a new level, since I was not competing that year.”
The earliest roots of Ladies First can be traced back to 2002, when a golf tournament at Windermere House served as the building block to address the need for financial support in women’s hockey. In the aftermath of the early successes of the Good as Gold Golf Open, Tim Harrison, Anne Marren and Brian McComb would become the heartbeat of the cause’s evolution.
An initiative to assist the Canadian Olympic “Friends and Family Program”, enabling the families of women’s hockey players to attend the Torino Winter Games was the catalyst towards establishing Ladies First. The eventual formation of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) would also result in Ladies First becoming a proud partner, working to establish its sustainability while allowing the heroes of Team Canada a place to play while providing young fans with an opportunity to see their hockey heroes up close.
Among the women that were part of the CWHL’s first season were the likes of Pounder and Hefford, whose teams opposed each other in the first-ever CWHL championship game. Not only was Hefford recognized as league MVP during the CWHL’s inaugural season, she would be the first player in league history to reach the century mark with 100 career points. Retiring from league play as the all-time leading scorer (since broken), Hefford’s heroics have captured the hearts and minds of fans and teammates alike.
Getting the chance to be part of LFHF has allowed Hefford to remain part of the game, symbolizing that women in hockey are capable of being able to continue making a difference and remaining role models after they hang their skates for the final time. Undoubtedly, Hefford’s presence and acumen for the game provides great benefit for game’s future, simultaneously contributing towards an enriching chapter in her hockey odyssey. The result of her experience in LFHF is one that has translated into a labor of love,
“I enjoy the opportunity to stay involved with the National team players. I also feel it is a way to give back for some of the support I received. The other board members are really great people who are passionate about the game and our female players. I love being able to work alongside such successful and generous individuals. The money that is raised each year is so important to both the players and their families, so I am happy to play a small part in that.”
Among the admirable efforts of the LFHF, the Good as Gold Open remains its signature event, one that Hefford has attended as both player and current board member. Held on an annual basis during one of the early weekends of the summer solstice, it has evolved into a key event on the Canadian women’s hockey calendar. Celebrating the game while providing a combination of appreciation and support for the dedicated women who don the Maple Leaf, striving for gold in international competition, such sentiment represents its greatest legacy.
In addition to raising funds, the event is also a gathering of some of Canadian hockey’s luminaries, past and present. Traditionally, members from the Canadian national women’s team that participate in the previous IIHF Women’s World Championships (or Winter Games) also make their encouraging presence felt, providing fans in attendance and participating golfers with a treasured moment. As their attendance at Good as Gold represents a sincere gratitude for the efforts in place, testament to the event’s impact, it also involves feelings of reciprocation.
Although some of the younger members of this year’s national team were playing at the university level when Hefford helped Canada towards a golden outcome at events such as Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, she is proud of this exciting new generation of players. Not only are they following in her empowering footsteps, they are emulating her positive example, taking immense pride in their role as ambassadors for the game. Such dedication is a point of pride for Hefford, adding an exciting feeling of validation that the future for both the LFHF and the outlook for the women’s game shall be a successful collaboration of many more glorious and exciting milestones.
“The new generation of players are really skilled and talented. Yet, they are also great role models for young Canadians. They have been really incredible to work with. I feel fortunate to stay involved with this new group of players (and some old teammates and friends).”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from: http://www.jaynahefford.ca/gallery/
To learn more about the Ladies First Hockey Foundation, please visit: http://www.ladiesfirsthockeyfoundation.com/