Hayley Wickenheiser has spent the past two decades blazing a trail in the sport of hockey.
A five-time Olympic medallist who has been in the spotlight since she made her world championship debut for Canada at the age of 15, she has become the face of the women’s game. Dominant on the ice and influential off it, the Calgary resident made history in 2003 when she became the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional hockey league.
DREAMS OF BECOMING A DOCTOR
At the age of 36, Wickenheiser is still chasing the same dreams she had as a young child growing up in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan. But while her hopes of representing Canada at a sixth and possibly final Olympics in 2018 are well known, Wickenheiser’s lifelong goal of becoming a doctor is not.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to play hockey and be in the medical field,” says Wickenheiser, who is currently taking a Masters in Medical Science at the University of Calgary. “It’s similar to hockey – there’s a team environment, lots of action and pressure and it’s never the same twice.”
FAMILY DOCTORS CRUCIAL
Although she’s currently recovering from foot surgery, Wickenheiser has stayed remarkably healthy throughout her long and distinguished hockey career. A veteran of 12 world championships, her longevity has been fuelled by a strong commitment to her personal health and fitness regimen. She works with a team of doctors, surgeons and other health professionals that includes her family doctor.
“I’ve had a regular family doctor for the last five or six years,” says Wickenheiser, who also represented Canada at the Summer Olympics in softball. “The main reasons I use my family doctor right now are prevention and the functional work I do. For general health check-ups, having a family doctor makes you more inclined to follow up and get on top of your own regular health than if you don’t feel connected to somebody.”
LIVE HEALTHIER: GET A FAMILY DOCTOR
Research shows that patients who regularly visit a family doctor are healthier and live longer. In Alberta, most family physicians are members of Primary Care Networks (PCNs). First established in 2003, PCNs improve access to family doctors and strengthen the services offered at clinics.
The Calgary area has seven PCNs, with about 1,275 doctors and 1.1 million patients. Each PCN designs programs and services to meet the unique health needs of the people they serve. PCN doctors often work in partnership with teams of pharmacists, dietitians, nurses and mental health consultants. PCNs also offer afterhours care as well as access to clinics and workshops.
Wickenheiser likens the PCN model to the holistic approach that has been adopted by many of the world’s best sports teams and federations.
“I think it’s crucial to have a primary point of contact and then a supporting cast of other professionals or experts that you can reach out to if you need something,” says Wickenheiser, whose family doctor is a member of the Calgary West Central PCN. “That’s basically how we do everything in the sport or athlete world. In family medicine that just makes total sense. It eliminates duplication and it keeps consistency, continuity and gives people better care.”
Wickenheiser’s foot injury – she underwent surgery in February – is one of the most serious she’s had as an athlete.
“I had a broken navicular so it’s basically foot reconstruction. So far, so good,” says Wickenheiser, who has played varsity hockey for the U of C Dinos since 2010. “My goal is to be back next season.”
Wickenheiser has learned a few things over the years that have helped her balance a demanding training and competition schedule with her studies and family life. Although she’s taking nothing for granted when it comes to pursuing a career in medicine, she’s hoping some of the skills she picked up on the ice will help her fulfill her dream of becoming Dr. Wickenheiser.
“I’ve spent a bit of time shadowing (doctors). It seems like a very interesting and appealing career,” she says. “But first of all I would just like to go to medical school. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.
“In sport you learn a lot about time management and preparation and discipline. I feel like I’m pretty prepared to take on any challenges.”