Hailing from Laval, Quebec, Vanessa Racine is ready for another empowering season of ice sledge hockey with the Canadian national team. Among the elite female competitors to hail from La Belle Province, Racine is equally one of its pioneers, as her roots to the sport can be traced back to her teens.
“I was 17 years old when I first heard of the sport. I had been dreaming to play hockey, any sport, since I was 8. There was only one sledge hockey team in Quebec (at the time). It was a half hour away so I started to play.”
Similar to other regions of Canada, the sport is still developing in Quebec. Racine acknowledges that there are challenges as growth remains essential to the future. An increased level of competition would serve as an ideal starting point,
“We need more teams. Maybe six, as there not a lot of teams. We need more people to get involved and start teams in different regions.”
Having endured neurofibromatosis and pseudoartroses, Racine competes on the defensive side of the game. When not with the Canadian national team, her club team is Les Demons Roulants de Laval.
Although Racine was inactive for the inaugural IPC Women’s Worlds in Brampton, Ontario, her presence was still essential. Despite facing recovery from a procedure just a few days earlier, she was a great source of moral support, as Canada qualified for the gold medal game,
“I had a suffered an amputation a few days before the tournament. I was on the roster as a substitute player. I was not ready to go on the ice but the tournament was fun.”
Just a few short months later, Racine had the opportunity to grace the ice once again for Canada. The chance to do so represented an unforgettable moment in her career. As the IPC Men’s Worlds were taking place in Buffalo, New York, the community of the game was enhanced by the presence of the American and Canadian national women’s teams.
Facing off against each other in an annual exhibition series, the Canadian team took to the ice in grand fashion. Wearing game-used jerseys that the Canadian national women’s stand-up team donned at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Racine saw it as a remarkable sign of acceptance,
“We actually had the official Team Canada jerseys in Buffalo with our names on the back. Canadian men’s national team member Derek Whitson explained that you hang up the jersey with the logo facing you, as your country is more important than your name.”
For Racine, the chance to wear such jerseys took on a whole new meaning. Of note, the back of her jersey featured the number 29, made famous by fellow Quebec resident Marie-Philip Poulin. As Poulin is one of Quebec’s most famous hockey players, the chance to share her number represented a remarkable experience,
“I was given number 29, the number worn by Marie Philip-Poulin. When I actually realized this was the jersey she had worn at the Sochi Olympics, I was so proud.”
Although Racine was one of the veteran players at Canada’s national team training camp in 2015, held near Ottawa in Stittsville, Ontario, she is very humble about her presence on the team, testament to her team-first approach, “I am not one of the top leaders on the team, but we all have a role to play. I try to show a positive example by playing well and following instructions.
During the training camp, Racine had the chance to bond with other players, especially during the intrasquad games that were held. Opposing Team White, Racine was named to Team Red, as the fans in attendance were treated to a rare display of such exceptional attendance,
“Both games were fun. I know the girls and how to play them. Sometimes, I got nervous. Some of these girls are really fast and I was thinking ‘Gosh, how do I get her?’
There was a girl from Quebec on my team and we already knew each other. I was giving her tips, and we all give each other info as it makes us better.”
While Racine is focused on the season ahead for the national team, she cannot help put ponder the amazing possibilities of the Paralympics. Taking into account that women’s ice sledge hockey shall be a demonstration sport at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, Racine feels a great amount of national pride, knowing that the event shall signify a watershed moment,
“I am really excited about the Paralympic Games. I think it means a lot to the program. The guys have been competing at that level since 1994. I took a lot of time for the women in stand-up hockey to get recognition. We know how hard it can be for women in any sport to get coverage. The more people talk about us, the more excited and proud we are. We are thankful for the people who help us make the sport grow.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook, photo credit: Alannah Mah