I feel like I just won a major championship. I’ve been lucky enough to hit a few big athletic milestones over the years and the Fierce Female Hockey Camp is one of them.
The inaugural Fierce Female Hockey Camp that took place early June was… FIERCE. Here is a glimpse into my journey as the camp creator, one of the organizers, lead on ice instructor and parent of a fierce female player attending. We’ll start at the very end on Sunday…
The rink clock showed 1:50PM when I stepped off the ice following the last group of 33 players. I completed my fourth hour of instruction in a row. The camp was wrapping up and the rink was eerily quiet following the storm of 133 fierce females who occupied it all weekend.
I walked to the change room, put my stick against the wall with the others lined up, pushed the door open and threw my gloves in my bag. Still standing with my helmet and skates on, I got the attention of the women sitting around the room. I didn’t get past my first two words (which were thank you) before I choked up. My eyes filled with tears and my voice trembled. In all my fierceness, I showed complete vulnerability. I was overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for their time, the value each one of them brought to every player they interacted with all weekend and their commitment to give back to the sport we all share and love.
I commented that June is Pride month focused on the importance of inclusion. This weekend was all about making the sport of hockey more inclusive. We gave girls a space to have fun while learning, to feel safe to try and just be beautifully fierce. I told them to keep doing what they’re doing. To keep making space for themselves in every rink they walk into, play at or coach in.
2022 Team Canada Olympic Gold Medalist Ashton Bell from Deloraine, MB was in the room and the camp’s special guest. She is a fierce female playing at the highest level in the world. Alongside Ashton, the collective experience and accomplishments of all the on-ice coaches this weekend was incredible. Every free minute I could find to get to know one of them better was a treasure. As much as this weekend was about the players, it was also about the coaches. We need more women in leadership roles in hockey. It was about giving them a space to have fun while learning from each other, to feel safe to try new things and just be beautifully fierce.
One of the women on the organizing committee, and an on-ice coach, said to me that despite being surrounded by high performance athletes, still playing competitive hockey, or women coaching at various AAA levels, she never once felt out of place as a grassroots community coach. She felt a part of the team. She felt included. She felt fierce.
Also in that room, and on the ice all weekend, were Team Leads who are fierce females playing at the U15AAA, U18AAA or University/College level. Their role was supporting a specific “mini team” of 11 girls. They went on ice with them, participated in off-ice activities with them and ate lunch with them.
Sunday night, just after 10pm, I got a text from one of the U18AAA’s. Here’s a bit of what she wrote:
“Growing up, I would have given anything to have an all-female camp with all female role models and it is crazy to think that I have become one. I had girls come up to me asking if I really played Wildcats and asking if they could have an autograph, as if I was a superstar! That made me realize how important it is for us to advocate for the future of girls in sport… Meeting all the girls this weekend and being a leader for them is something I will never forget; it was beyond incredible.”
She went on to share how she continues to face challenges as a fierce female hockey player. That, despite winning provincials this year at the highest level of minor hockey, she was hit with comments that her win didn’t count because it wasn’t boys’ hockey. She said she never wants another fierce female to go through that. Nor do I.
This is why the Fierce Female Hockey Camp was created. We all belong in the sport and
seeing ourselves in hockey matters.
And we could not have asked for a greater famous (as referenced by several players) role model than Ashton Bell. Ashton was at the rink all weekend. When she wasn’t on the ice, she was always surrounded by fierce females and their families. She was signing autographs, taking pictures and letting fierce females hold her Gold Medal. She was kind, humble, and super patient when players (like mine) asked if they got to keep the medal. If I had to pick my favourite parts of this weekend, it would be:
- The Cheer – At the beginning and end of each ice time, all the players, coaches and team leads gathered at centre ice. I asked one question – “What are we?” and in unison, using our loudest voices, we answered – “Fierce!” We did it three times and it always got louder. All the players were looking at me, so I saw their beautifully fierce faces close up. If I could only bottle the strength and potential these players have. They are what fuel me to keep coaching.
- The Friends – I made friends this weekend and watched my daughter make new friends too. I love team sport for just this and it never gets old. The connections you make with others through a shared experience is magical.
- The Smiles – Everyone was smiling. I don’t think I have ever been in a rink with that many people all smiling at the same time. Hockey should be fun. This weekend was fiercely fun.
- The Community – I’ve mentioned the on-ice coaches and team leads, but there were so many other fierce female volunteers making the event spectacular. Our off-ice activities had fierce females leading them. This included my stepdaughter, my sister, my niece and two women working in post secondary athletics departments. Another group of incredible women, and one male ally, took on all kinds of roles to make sure things ran smoothly and that everyone was smiling, making friends, and cheering their hearts out.
There was a lot of chatter around the rink about next steps and questions on when the next camp will be. Because I was on the ice all day both days, I was sheltered from this and feel thankful for that. It allowed me to just soak in the event itself. I lost myself in current moments versus planning for the future.
Do I have future plans for Fierce Female Hockey? Absolutely. Do I need a community of female fierceness to bring it to life? Absolutely. This camp was a success only because of the collective efforts of almost 40 volunteers, including four key organizers. A special heartfelt thanks to Michelle Augustyn, Joel Whiteside, Kara Paradis and Megan Robertson.
Do I know what the future looks like just yet? No, but what I can tell you is that the Fierce Female Hockey Camp is not going anywhere. It’s filling a programming and development gap not just for female players but for female leaders too.
My goal is bringing out the fierce in every female. Just try to stop us.
“All quotes and images obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”