Today, February 3rd, is National Girls and Women in Sports Day. This day is dedicated to inspiring girls and women to play, be active, and realize their full power, highlighting the confidence, strength, and character gained through sports. There are so many women that within the FHO Community that are dedicated to inspiring the next generation of girls in sport and today, we would like to showcase their stories, including this story from Lisa McRae who is an active coach with Dolphins Field Hockey Club and at York University.
This has been a great exercise for me. Recounting my journey in Field Hockey, I have come to realize that my achievements were not goals that I had set for myself. Throughout my career, my goal as an athlete was simple: ‘Do your best’.
I started playing field hockey in Grade 10 after emigrating from Jamaica with my family at age 9. Prior to that, gymnastics was my sport. A fellow gymnast suggested I try out for the field hockey team since the season was short and would not conflict with gymnastics. I showed up to the tryout without a clue about field hockey; I had never seen or heard of the sport. My high school coach, Ken O’Connor, was from Australia, and he taught me the proper techniques for the fundamental skills, especially stopping and hitting (not that easy a task on a bumpy football field), which became the foundation of my success as a sweeper and penalty corner hitter.
That first year, our team did not win a single game. Three years later, in my last year of high school, our team qualified for the OFSAA Championships, losing in the semi-finals. Coach O’Connor encouraged some of us to go to the Provincial tryouts which at that time were held in the fall at U of T’s King’s College Circle. This support led to a whirlwind of changes over the next few months. I was selected for the Provincial squad and then was later contacted by university coaches to see if I was interested in playing for their teams. Prior to this, I was unaware that either of the provincial or university varsity teams even existed and now I was set to do both for the next 5 years.
During the summers I trained with the Provincial squad and earned spots on the Jr and Sr teams, sometimes both teams in the same summer. At that time, most provinces participated in the National Championships so I had the opportunity to travel to just about every province in Canada. I remember traveling to St. John, New Brunswick to participate in the 1985 Canada Summer Games, my first multi-sport event.
During the fall and winter, I played varsity hockey at the University of Toronto. The toughest part of my university days was definitely the daily 7 am practices at Trinity fields. I lived at home so that meant hopping on the bus at 5:45 to get downtown. It was all worth it though because my tight-knit Varsity family support was invaluable in such a large university. The highlight of my time as a Varsity Blue came in my final year. As co-captain, we won the OWIAA championship (today that’s the OUA) and went on to win the Canadian championships at Lamport Stadium by defeating the University of New Brunswick in overtime. That celebrated win earned the team a spot in U of T’s Sports Hall of Fame!
I was aware of the national program since some of my teammates played on the Canadian team but I never really gave any thought to it. It wasn’t in my dreams to play for the Canadian team; I was doing my best and, most importantly, having the time of my life. Upon graduating, I thought, “OK, fun’s over, time to find a job.” However, a month later, in December 1985, I was invited to a national team tryout. The fun was not over, it was just about to begin!
My entry into the national sphere coincided with the heyday of the women’s national program. Marina Van de Merwe and Kathy Broderick were building momentum, having just earned a silver medal at the 1983 World Cup and placing 5th at the 1984 Olympics. I have so many fond memories of my short time with the Canadian squad. We trained and competed all over the world: Holland, Germany, Australia, England, Russia, Korea. Highlights of my national journey include scoring the overtime winner on a penalty corner in the Bronze medal game at the 1986 World Cup, scoring a hat-trick against New Zealand at the 1987 Champions Trophy then signing autographs for fans on the way out of the stadium, and celebrating my 24th birthday with 10 other Olympians from around the world at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
I chose to retire after the Olympic Games. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was the best move for me. Fast forward 20 years, as a favour to my son’s girlfriend, I dusted off the cobwebs from my stick to participate in the Scarborough Dolphins’ season-opening Fun Day. There I met Zeeshan Minhas, the club’s organizer/coach who that day convinced me to join the club as a coach. He put me to work primarily with the youngest members of the club, a perfect fit for me since I like to focus on strong fundamentals, as my first coach taught me.
In 2014, Zeeshan asked me to join him at York University as an assistant coach. I have to admit, after all my years with U of T, it was weird to wear the red York jersey and awkward to cheer for the York Lions, but I got over that quickly (winning 2 OUA championships helped). I am extremely happy in this unexpected chapter of my field hockey journey. It gives me a chance to be back on the turf, giving back to a sport I love. One of the best feelings as a coach comes when I make small corrections in someone’s technique and the difference creates an aha moment for them.
So there you have it, my field hockey journey in a nutshell. My simple mantra of “Do your best” certainly served me well. It’s a philosophy that I apply to all aspects of my life: at work, at home, at rest. Always strive to do your best. You never know where your best will take you.