Don’t assume the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be a swan song for Hayley Wickenheiser.
Now preparing for her fifth Winter Games, the 34-year-old hockey star already has four Olympic medals to her credit, three gold and one silver. She stays invigorated by constantly refashioning her regimen, taking cross-training to epic levels by mixing in everything from gymnastics to boxing.
She has worked out alongside NHL stars, speed skaters and mountain runners. Wickenheiser has been on Canada’s women’s national team since she was 15, and even as a possible career in medicine awaits her, she’s not ready to call this her last Olympics.
“I have no concrete plans either way,” Wickenheiser says. “I’ll just see how I feel after Sochi, but as of today, I feel like I could play another Olympics. I feel I have enough energy, fitness and ability to do it again if I want to. I still have the desire to do it. That hasn’t left me. People tell me I’ll just know it when it’s time to go, but that hasn’t hit me yet.”
Since winning gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Wickenheiser has been working toward her kinesiology degree at the University of Calgary, and she will graduate in April. She is also raising her 12-year-old son, Noah, playing for the school’s hockey team and job shadowing in the emergency rooms of several Calgary hospitals. After the Sochi Games, she hopes to apply to some medical schools and see what happens before deciding if she will play into the 2018 Olympic cycle.
“I’ve spent many hours observing in the [emergency room], and I really enjoy the team atmosphere,” Wickenheiser says. “You’re in a pressure situation and you have to make decisions and perform – similar feelings and skills that you experience in hockey.”
To keep the fire burning, Wickenheiser adds new activities and trains with various elite athletes. She spends summers on the ice with NHL players such as Matt Duchene. She hits the trails with Canadian mountain runner Syl Corbett, and goes road biking with Canada’s speed skaters. She mixes in tennis, boxing, trampoline and Ki-Hara stretching, the resistance technique that five-time American Olympic swimmer Dara Torres inspired her to try.
Wickenheiser has been working out in the gym with ex-NHLer and current Calgary Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas for several years.
“She’s special,” Gelinas says. “I’ve had a chance to be around a lot of athletes, and she is by far the most dedicated. I put her in the same class as Sidney Crosby in terms of work ethic. I’ve trained with Rod Brind’Amour, and he’s a phenom off-ice in the way he trains, and she’s like that – totally awesome to work out with. She has built up that respect from the best hockey players in the world, and it doesn’t come in showing up one time, it comes from coming back day after day and working hard at all the right things.”
The women’s hockey team will hold a boot camp this spring before kicking off the Olympic training camp in August. Wickenheiser says she and a few athlete friends will go on their own boot camp first to push her past her limits and prepare for the workout volume. She says she enjoys tests like biking upward of 300 kilometres in an outing to steel both her body and mind.
The 5-foot-10, 171-pound star is the all-time scoring leader for Canada’s women’s national team, tallying 146 goals and 172 assists in 216 international games. Her shot has often been called the hardest in women’s hockey. The punishing player has amassed 264 penalty minutes, more than double that of most who have suited up for the national team.
“My shot is my greatest threat, I can shoot from anywhere,” she says. “But I want to keep everyone off-balance, I want them to always be guessing about whether I’ll shoot or pass. I have tried to go from being a bull in the game to being a spider, where instead of having to impose on every play, the play comes to you.”
She and 35-year-old Jayna Hefford are the oldest and longest-serving players on Canada’s team, the only two left to have played in all four Olympics dating back to the debut of the women’s game in 1998. Hefford, also feeling the energy to play through to 2018, is right behind Wickenheiser on the all-time scoring list, with 123 goals and 100 assists in 205 games.
“These are two totally different players, but two very important players you still really need,” says Danielle Goyette, assistant coach of the national team and a three-time Olympian herself. “The younger players aren’t ready to do what those two players do to make the team successful.
“Hayley doesn’t do anything in life halfway, always working outside her comfort zone on ways she can be different, faster and harder to defend.”