Hayley Wickenheiser doesn’t have a lot of free time.
Both a medical doctor and the Toronto Maple Leafs senior director of player development, the four-time Olympic gold medallist is almost always on the move.
So how exactly did she find time to write a book?
“Living in the Greater Toronto Area, all you do is drive … to the practice rink, to the hospital,” Wickenheiser said with a laugh. “I would do a lot of talking into my phone and writing it that way. It was a process.
“It’s amazing how many hours we spend in our cars. There’s lot of time to talk.”
Turns out she had plenty to say.
Wickenheiser’s book Over the Boards: Lessons from the Ice, which hit shelves earlier this week, sees the Hockey Hall of Famer share many of the lessons she’s learned, often the hard way, in both sports and in life.
Success. Failure. Joy. Heartache. Pressure. Breaking down doors. Pushing through.
But the stalwart with Canada’s women’s hockey program for more than two decades – and one who recently completed medical school – wasn’t sure anyone would care to read her words.
“I was approached to write it and I thought, ‘Well, what do I have to say that’s interesting?’ ” Wickenheiser, 43, said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “A lot of people know the experiences that I’ve experienced.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, she realized her journey – a young girl looking for a place to play in a sport where she wasn’t welcome who then made the biggest stage and subsequently went onto to become a doctor – and all the pressure, uncertainty, change and criticism she experienced along the way might help others.
“I thought if I could impart a couple things, or give some people some hope at this time, then I would do it,” Wickenheiser said.
Over the Boards is divided into three parts, modelled on the defensive, neutral and offensive zones in hockey. She talks about first building a foundation, then getting creative before finally letting loose – “time to let fly.”
But the book starts off not on her family’s backyard rink in rural Saskatchewan or with an Olympic gold medal hanging from her neck in Salt Lake City, Turin, Vancouver or Sochi.
It starts inside a Toronto emergency room on Wickenheiser’s first day as a med student.
She was a rookie again among veterans – now they were doctors and nurses instead of forwards and defenders – and a young patient with a suspected drug overdose was heading their way.
“I panicked,” writes Wickenheiser, who had shadowed doctors as she wound her way through undergrad and master’s programs, but only ever watched from the sidelines until this moment. “My heart rate spiked. I started breathing fast. I lost my bearings.
“I had watched all this stuff happen and now, on my first shift actually helping, all I could think was, ‘I’m not qualified. What am I doing here?’ ”
Then she took a moment and tied her hair into a ponytail, just like she did before every hockey game, and suddenly “everything slowed down.”
Pressure, as she writes later, is a privilege.
And Wickenheiser had been in countless high-pressure situations on the ice. She just needed to lean on those experiences in her new role – in this case performing CPR in two-minute intervals before the doctor told her to stop.
The patient, the same age as Wickenheiser’s son, had died.
“I’ll never forget that young man as long as I live,” the seven-time women’s world champion said in her interview with CP. “When you’re responsible, in some small way like I was, for another human being’s life, it puts a lot of things in perspective. There’ll be no pressure that I’ll face in medicine that will ever compare to what I felt in a gold-medal hockey game at the Olympics.
“The pressure is very different. … It’s quite an honour to be in those moments with people when they’re having the worst day of their lives. You realize life is very short and we never know when it could be our last day. That’s a bit cliché, but it reminded me we only get one go with this life, and we should try to make the most of it the best we can because it goes by really fast.
“I had a million thoughts going through my head with him being there, but just to be in that moment, to put your hands on another person who’s fighting for their life, was a very profound.”
Her book was born that day.
“I hope people find a little hope and inspiration,” Wickenheiser said. “Not everything is possible [in life], but I think we put limitations on ourselves we don’t need to. I’m probably a living example of someone that’s lived against the grain. Whenever the doors have shut or people have said ‘No’ I’ve tried to find other ways.
“If people can draw those parallels into their own life, and if there’s any nuggets in the book they find personally resonates with them, that will have been mission accomplished.”