Sometimes the picture tells it all--Eri Yamamoto MacDonald, Canadian sledge-hockey womens’ team forward (above-left), goes for the puck in international competition; team-mate Geneva Coulter (above-right) beams on the ice wearing a bona-fide Team Canada jersey. Life doesn’t get much better when competing at an elite athletic level is what you choose to do.
Training for Canadian national womens’ team sledge-hockey is challenging on a few fronts. Team members are spread across the entire country, so opportunities to train on the ice together are few. Not yet sanctioned as an official Paralympic team, the Canadian womens’ sledge-hockey team is building its infrastructure, recruiting athletes, hosting training camps and attending competitions all on a shoestring budget. Having access to athletic development and training is critical to build a team that can compete at an international and hopefully soon, a Paralympic level.
Edmonton is home to three team members and helping to train them is Athlete Development program coordinator and Adapted Physical Activity specialist/trainer, Kirsti Van Dornick. “I need someone who understands Adapted Physical Activity and who can really maximize my off-ice training,” says Eri Yamamoto-MacDonald. “Kirsti understands how my body works.” If anyone could train on their own, it might be Eri, a graduate student in Adaptive Physical Activity at the University of Alberta Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, and former power swimmer. “As a former athlete, I know how hard you have to push for elite competition,” she says. “I tried on my own, but it wasn’t as effective.”
As a more mature member of the team, Eri (31) is juggling the obligations of adult life—work, graduate studies and a new marriage—alongside her competitive pursuits. Having a trainer able to maximize her workouts is critical as it is impossible for her to train the same number of hours that she used to when she was younger. “When I was a teenager, I could swim five hours a day. I can’t do that any more. With Kirsti, my training is concentrated, targeted and really effective.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Eri’s younger teammate, Geneva Coulter, who has had to balance the challenge of training as hard as she can without overtraining. “When I first started, I was exhausted after each session, and could only handle one session per week.”With Kirsti Geneva found the balance, her strength has improved, and gradually she was able to go from one to three sessions per week. “You really have to maximize your workouts. I am way stronger.” Strength and conditioning training translates into on-ice skills such as that all important ability to raise the puck and shoot hard. “When I go to national training camps I’m not struggling--I can easily keep up with the other athletes,” notes Geneva.
The benefits of elite athletic competition and training extend beyond the ice. Bonding with team-members across the country, meeting Olympian and World Champion Sami Jo Small, and wearing official Team Canada jerseys are lifelong memories. Geneva recalls when the women’s sledge-hockey team athletes were given official Team Canada jerseys before a game at an international tournament last year. “It was overwhelming. It’s a highlight of my life,” says Geneva. Geneva says that playing sledge hockey, making the national team has given her confidence in her abilities in everything, not just hockey. “Going forward, I know that if I make the choice to do something, I can do it,” she says. Geneva attends high-school at Edmonton’s Vimy Ridge Academy, and also participates in The Steadward Bears Para-swim team.
Teammate Eri echoes the same sentiment. “I am over 30, and I wasn’t sure if I could still compete at the same level as I used to. It feels really, really good to have that kind of strength again.” That strength spills over into the rest of her active and full life.