Sport for Life team members find their way to the international sport stage

by Chrissy Colizza

Women and sports. 

Although we can now commonly find these terms together, the evolution of women in sports has been marred by barriers resulting from society’s discriminatory beliefs about gender roles. 

Since the introduction of Title IX in 1972, there has been considerable growth in female sports participation. In fact, women’s sports are considered one of the fastest-growing subgroups in the sports industry worldwide, with increases of female sport participation near 15% at the collegiate and international levels since 1994 . The sport system has come a long way towards providing true quality sport and physical literacy opportunities for females, but there is still a long way to go before equity is achieved.

The vision at Sport for Life is simple. We want every Canadian to find a custom-designed physical literacy pathway that works for them throughout their lives. We believe that we can accomplish this through collaboration, innovation, inclusion, and integrity. One avenue that has garnered increasing attention at Sport for Life is promoting female athlete development, leadership and life-long participation in quality sport and physical activity.

This vision has helped Sport for Life to recruit outstanding individuals from all walks of life, including two individuals in particular who are helping to pave the way for young female athletes across Canada. In addition to being dedicated employees, they compete on some of the world’s top high-performance teams. 

A delay is not a denial

After getting a taste of playing at the national level , Jackie Sawicki had dreams of playing in a World Cup, but never thought it was realistic.. Her first cap with Canada Women’s National Teamtook place when she was only 18 years old. Playing 4 mins in injury time in front of Kansas City’s sold-out stadium with a 1-1 scoreline against FIFA’s number 1 ranked team, USA, was nothing less than a surreal experience.

Despite not making another appearance on the playing field with Canada’s first team, she was fortunate to gain more experience at training camps in Vancouver and Brazil.

Sawicki  finished a five-year career with the University of Victoria, and played for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the summers before the women’s side folded. She then signed her first professional contract in Japan in 2017. The following year, she transferred to Sweden for two more years.

It was always her plan to play with the U20s after some experience with the senior team, and that’s precisely what she did. In addition to playing high-level soccer at the University of Victoria and on professional teams she also participated in the WC Qualifiers preparation camp in Costa Rica, the U20 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers in Panama, a European training camp in Italy and Switzerland, and the U20 FIFA World Cup in Japan.

In 2019,  Sawicki moved back to Canada from Sweden. In addition to the strain of the pandemic, she was suffering severe overuse pain in her knee and decided it was time to hang up her cleats from professional soccer. After the decision to retire, she took two years completely off training and competing before starting to play again, just for fun, in the fall of 2021 with Gorge FC. 

Then in 2022, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) reached out and she was completely shocked. PFF had reached out earlier in her career, twice, but she respectfully declined.  At that time, she did not have the right documentation to represent the Philippines and was uncertain of her eligibility due to FIFA regulations and her past experience with Canada. She  decided to focus on her performance as a new professional player. However, this time, she had no reason to say no. 

Sawicki had never envisioned playing for another country, let alone having another shot at her dreams. Despite being removed from the competitive landscape for a couple of years, she decided to accept the national team call up. She was invited to a training camp in Sydney, Australia, alongside 25 other players. From there, the top 20 made the roster for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi, Vietnam. The SEA Games are a multi-sport event that occurs every two years, and at that competition, Sawicki helped her team win a bronze medal–the first medal in 37 years for the Philippines in Women’s and Men’s Soccer.

Now Sawicki has her eyes set on another international tournament, the AFF Championships (ASEAN Football Federation), from  July 4-17 in Manila, Philippines. Before the tournament, she will attend a June training camp in Turkey and Slovenia .

 Although Sawicki did not take the most conventional path, she has demonstrated that a delay is not a denial. She serves as an inspiration to keep working hard for any young female athletes who may be experiencing a delay in reaching their goals.

 Dream big and work hard

Anna Mollenhauer has been playing field hockey since the age of four and has aspirations to play in the Olympic Games one day. Mollenhauer has always loved sports, evidenced by her desire to play every sport she could growing up. She didn’t start playing field hockey competitively until high school. From there, her field hockey career took off.

 While she was a student, Mollenhauer was provided with the opportunity to attend the Field Hockey Canada Conference (FHBC) regional program. After a remarkable showing, she was invited to play field hockey provincially for team BC and participate in junior national team Canada training camps.

Since then, Mollenhauer has had the opportunity to represent Canada at both the junior and senior levels.

“There are no words to describe the sense of pride that is felt standing arm in arm with your teammates who have become family, listening to and singing the Canadian anthem at the top of your lungs. It’s honestly pretty surreal, and this feeling and the memories I have made will stick with me for the rest of my life,” she said.

Looking back on her field hockey career thus far, Mollenhauer feels immense gratitude for the support of those around her, especially her mom and her University of Victoria team and coaches, who she explained as having the most positive impacts on her field hockey journey and her life in general.

Sport for Life was lucky to have Mollenhauer for two co-op placements. During this time, she learned not to be afraid to challenge herself, step outside her comfort zone and put herself into uncomfortable situations to learn and grow.

She explained that these experiences helped improve her professional development but also helped her on her field hockey journey: “I have learned many important lessons at Sport for Life, and experiencing the behind-the-scenes world of sport has been truly remarkable. Overall, the connections I have fostered here at Sport for Life and the lessons I have learned will stay with me throughout my professional career, field hockey career, and life, and I am forever grateful for this”.

Although only 22, Mollenhauer is full of wisdom. She prides herself on believing that growth will not occur overnight unless she challenges herself and puts in the work to step out of her comfort zone. In doing so, she believes that she will transform into a better athlete and, more importantly, a better person.

When asked what advice she would give young aspiring female athletes, she said: “Keep chasing your dreams and believe within yourself that you can achieve greatness. Having a good mindset is a key factor to success. Dream big and work hard to achieve your goals, and don’t let anyone tell you any different”.

A dynamic duo

Both Sawicki and Mollenhauer embody the true vision of Sport for Life, one closely intertwined with Kaizen, a philosophy that calls for relentless self-improvement. It is a philosophy that does not accept things for the way they are but rather for how they could be. These individuals had ambitious dreams of playing their sport at the top level and worked hard and persevered to achieve those dreams. Here at Sport for Life, we consider ourselves lucky to be engaged in work with such highly determined and ambitious individuals on and off the playing field. We wish them the best as they venture out to play on international stages in the coming weeks.  

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