Did you know Hayley Wickenheiser played the dramatic come-from-behind gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics on a broken foot? Today’s Parent recently got a chance to sit down with Wickenheiser, widely regarded as the best of all time in her sport, but on this day wearing a cast to give her foot a chance to heal. Now a spokesperson for Maple Leaf Natural Selections PROTINIS, she talked to us about her game-winning diet, Sochi and what parents should—and shouldn’t—do to raise an athlete.
TP: What do you eat when you are training?
HW: I try to eat a well-balanced diet with a lot of variety and colours on the plate—so lots of veggies. In the off-season, I tend to eat a lot more fat and protein, and during the season I have more carbohydrates that I’m burning off during the games. My meal before a big game varies, but usually involves rice, salad or sweet potatoes, with some form of chicken or fish, and some form of vegetable.
TP: Switching gears to Sochi…I think many parents love the Olympics because women’s sports are given equal time. One of our editors, Tracy Chappell, who has two daughters, wrote an essay while the games were on and here’s what she said: “I asked Anna, who is seven, what her favourite Olympic sport was. She said, ‘Hockey—the women’s games, though, not the men’s.’ I asked her why and she couldn’t have answered me more perfectly. She said: Because when I watch them I see how good I could be.” Do you feel a sense of responsibility to show girls what they can do?
HW: The great thing about the Olympics is that every four years our sport is elevated to the world stage and millions of people watch. When I was seven years old, I didn’t have any female hockey role models, or even any female athlete to look up to. So I looked up to Gretzky and Messier and the Oilers in the ’80s. Now girls have a chance to look up to the women’s hockey team or soccer team or other women’s teams and say, “I could do that.” It’s also changing the way corporations are investing their dollars; women’s sports are getting a little bit more of that. It’s fun to be part of this wave.
TP: What advice would you give to a young girl who’s starting out in hockey?
HW: I would just say that it’s the greatest game in the world and there is so much that it can offer. Whether you like it because of the action or because of the social aspect in the dressing room, just stick with it. It’s hard when you first start to skate and you’re learning how to handle the puck. We all fall down, but the big part of it is just getting back up and sticking with it.
Read more: How to raise a future Olympian>
TP: My eight-year-old daughter just finished her first hockey season. She wanted to know how you handle the pressure of the Olympics.
HW: I tell kids it’s like having butterflies in your stomach and you want to get them to fly in formation, which you can do by breathing deeply. It’s a good thing to visualize when you’re nervous. Also, remember that hockey is a great sport because you have a team to help deflect the pressure away from yourself.
TP: What was your reaction when you found out that you were going to be the flag-bearer?
HW: I was surprised for sure. How could you say no? It was really cool because my son [Noah] is a proud Canadian and an army cadet.
TP: Did he come to Sochi?
HW: He came for twenty days. I had a big crew of family and friends there. He’s been to every Olympic game. In Vancouver, he brought a Harry Potter book to the final in case he got bored. This time around, he was more into it. He actually sent me a text before the final saying, “Hey Mom, remember to high-five me before you go on the ice.” He was there with his Canada mitts on, high-fiving the team.
TP: What do you think is the best thing a parent can do to get their kids excited about sports? It’s easy to go overboard.
HW: Introduce your kid to lots of things and then get out of the way. I think the greatest thing my parents did was give me exposure to a lot of different sports. I grew up being really active, but I was never forced to do anything. There were many times, as a female playing hockey, negative stuff would happen. My parents would always ask, “Are you sure you want to keep playing?” But it was always my choice. Now there’s this idea that if your kid isn’t specializing by playing a sport year-round they can’t possibly be good, and I completely disagree with that. I think parent-micromanaging really backfires in the end. If your child is going to be an athlete, it has nothing to do with you—it really has to come from within.
TP: Do you think there are things parents absolutely should not do?
HW: I don’t think you should tell your son or daughter what they did wrong after a game. The best thing my parents ever did was to say nothing. They wouldn’t praise me or criticize me, really. They just allowed me to talk while they listened and encouraged me, but it wasn’t over-the-top. Even at the gold medal game, my dad just said, “Go out there and do your best.”
TP: You’ve achieved so much; is there anything you still want to do?
HW: I still have the goal of going into medicine someday. I’ve been working toward my degree and trying to balance my hockey career. I like emergency trauma—I’m an adrenaline junky! It’s the closest thing I’ve found to hockey: You need a team to work with, you never know what you’re going to get and you have to react on the spot.
TP: Do you think you’ll be back for another Olympic games?
HW: I’d like to play one more cycle. At this point I’m taking it year by year, but my goal is to play one more Olympics. I love what I do. I’m not ready to quit yet.
Celebrate Scotiabank #HockeyDay in Canada – Feb 18 at 12 PM ET / 9 AM PT – on Sportsnet
This article was originally published in February 2014.