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After years of artful footwork on the soccer field, Carrie Serwetnyk now performs her artistry on canvas.

The 35-year-old from Mississauga, who became the first female inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum on Saturday, sees parallels between her former life as one of Canada's top strikers and her current life as an artist.

"You do it for the pleasure hopefully, but if it's nice, you want to share it with others," Serwetnyk explained. As an artist, "you'd like someone to see your painting; you'd like someone to read what you've expressed. And it's the same for women soccer players."

Serwetnyk is a trailblazer for Canadian women in soccer. She helped open the door for women in a sport that now boasts a pro league in the United States and worldwide attention at the World Cup.

She just wishes that the opportunities available to women today had been there for her.

"I realize my generation, we're always going to have a bit of a chip on our shoulder because we've always had to . . . go through the entire process without any rewards."

Serwetnyk is not bitter, though, just realistic. But it seems clear she has had to work through some issues raised by the soccer era in which she played.

As a girl, there were no female role models.

"I wanted to find my tribe," she said. To do so, she had to leave Canada, first for the United States for college and then for Japan and France to play professionally.

Serwetnyk won a soccer scholarship to the University of North Carolina, a U.S. powerhouse. In 1985, at the age of 20, she scored 19 goals for the Lady Tar Heels and helped them to national titles in 1986 and 1987.

She was one of the first foreign stars to play in Japan, where she signed a reported $100,000 (U.S.), one-year deal in 1992 to play for a club owned by Fujita Corp., one of Japan's largest construction companies.

After one year with Fujita, she transferred to Yomiuri, the sister club of the best men's team in the top league.

Soccer is huge there. When the Yomiuri men arrived at the clubhouse, "it was like the Beatles."

Serwetnyk loved being part of a big club. But even there, as a foreign star at the pinnacle of the game, there were hurdles.

"None of the women were allowed on the grass field . . . We played on gravel and a turf that had sand on it.

"That was really tough, especially having lived in the United States with Title IX and equal opportunity for boys and girls. There's no such thing in Japan."

After injuries forced her out of soccer, she distanced herself from the game.

"It was so hard to stop playing. It just completely broke my heart."

She retired in 1996, although she played a few games after that before calling it quits.

She had a press pass for the women's World Cup in the United States but didn't go to many matches.

"I kind of had too much pain watching it. Like, 'How come I'm not out there?' I felt guilty for myself."

Serwetnyk now lives in an artists colony in Provincetown, Mass., where she studies art. She coaches young kids in Boston and three times a week there's a pickup game in Provincetown.

Soccer is fun again. And she can envisage a more serious return to the sport, perhaps coaching at a higher level.

On Saturday, in an elegant skirt and jacket combination adorned with an Armani scarf, Serwetnyk stood out from the other inductees, all men.

She has clearly thought about what it means to be the first woman hall of famer. "When I think of hall of fame, I think of Wayne Gretzky. I think of him because it's a name whose career we've all studied, we've seen him in so many hockey games for Canada, for Edmonton, for L.A., etc. We know his story.

"But a player like me, going into a soccer hall of fame, most people don't . . know what I've gone through. They have no idea.

"And so I feel a little bit of the pressure of, No. 1: maybe no one cares; and No. 2: thank you, someone out there saw, noticed where I've been and what I've done and gave me this one little token in time where I'm honoured for that.

"And it will make a difference for the rest of my life."

In all, Serwetnyk played just 19 times for Canada's national team. There were injuries, but at the time the Canadian women's team was often dormant.

Times have changed. The Canadian women's program today is much improved, with young teams, games galore and training camps.

Nowadays she could collect 19 caps in a year.

She says she has been inspired by new Canadian women's coach Even Pellerud, even dropping him a note to say how much she wishes she could have played for him.

"I guess I'm jealous of it," she says of the sport today.

Then, after an almost imperceptible pause, she adds: "I'm happy it's evolving and it's being recognized."

On Saturday, long overdue, so was Serwetnyk.

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