By Krista Robinson
Hayley Wickenheiser exchanged jersey for gown at Ryerson’s fall convocation Wednesday, when she received an honorary doctorate of laws from the university. The six-time Canadian Olympian sat sandwiched on stage between Ryerson President Sheldon Levy and women’s hockey coach Lisa Haley. Haley, who was an assistant coach with the Canadian women’s hockey team in Sochi, Russia last February with Wickenheiser, introduced her to the audience.
“Coaches don’t get gold medals,” she said. “But [Wickenheiser] was generous enough to have replica medallion necklaces made up for all the coaching staff out of her own pocket.”
It’s a good demonstration of the quality person that Wickenheiser is, Haley went on to say, and from the crowd it was easy to see what the Rams’ coach meant. Throughout the ceremony Wickenheiser sat poised, humbled by the honour she was about to receive in recognition of her great contribution to women’s hockey. The 36-year-old has won four Olympic gold medals for Canada, was flag-bearer in Sochi, and is widely considered one of the best female hockey players in the world. On top of that, in 2011 she was awarded the Order of Canada.
“[Wickenheiser’s] a great ambassador, not just on the ice but as an influential woman who’s achieved a lot in her career,” Haley said. “She’s a great role model for players on my team, as well as a lot of females on campus.”
Still, in an auditorium full of science and engineering grads, Wickenheiser wasn’t easily recognized. The robe, too sophisticated according to Wickenheiser, was embroidered with swatches of red velvet — a colour she’s used to wearing on the ice. She spoke to the crowd with passion about being a student herself and the importance of a university education.
“It’s an incredible honour to be recognized by a Canadian university, especially Ryerson, [which is] such a respected school. It just doesn’t happen every day,” she later said.
Last year the Saskatchewan native graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Kinesiology, which took her 16 years, in between Olympics, to complete. She is currently working on her masters in medical science, while playing forward for the U of C Dinos in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Canada west division.
Wickenheiser hopes to one day work in emergency medicine, but wants to continue playing and promoting women’s hockey for as long as possible.
“I’m just a student talking to students,” she said while tucking her dirty blonde hair – that was, for once, not tied up under a helmet – behind her ears. “I have no words of wisdom other than just use the skills that you have and enjoy [your graduation] because it was a lot of work to get to this point.”