Stranded field hockey player “very grateful for the experience”

Now that she’s behind her, Grace Leahy can see the experience of being stranded in South Africa with Canada’s junior field hockey team in a positive light.

Field Hockey Canada athletes and staff touched down in Toronto and Calgary last Thursday after more than a week of uncertainty in South Africa, where the team was slated to compete in the Junior (U21) World Cup. December 5 to 17. The team arrived at their home port in Potchefstroom, about 120 kilometers southwest of Johannesburg, on November 24, but learned that the tournament was postponed two days later due to the variant of the coronavirus omicron .

Flight restrictions prevented Team Canada from leaving South Africa immediately, so the team made the most of the situation with three-a-day practices, keeping up to date with schoolwork and bonding. as a team by playing board games, watching movies and enjoying meals together. The 20-player squad, which also includes Waterloo’s Jenna Berger, even hosted an early Christmas dinner as part of the shared experience.

“Overall I would say I am very grateful for the experience, although it was difficult in many ways. I think everyone would agree with me that we are stronger because of this experience, ”said Leahy, 18.

“We were very lucky to be in the situation we found ourselves in, to have our meals prepared for us at the facilities (at the University of the North West), to have the field a few steps away. It could have been a lot worse so for me I’m very grateful for the situation. “

Leahy is a Cameron Heights graduate who will attend Cornell University in Ithaca, NY next year and play NCAA Division 1 field hockey. His older sister, Maria, is the head coach of the Waterloo Warriors.

Berger, 21, is a St. David alumnus in her final year at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The captain of the River Hawks was selected for the conference and regional all-star teams this fall. Several attempts to reach her on Tuesday failed.

Leahy and Berger’s return journey began with a bus ride from Potchefstroom to Johannesburg, a flight to Toronto via Frankfurt, Germany, and a two-night stay in a quarantine hotel near the airport.

Leahy received a negative test result on Saturday morning, but said she was then told it could take 24 to 72 hours before she could leave “the hotel which was nothing like a hotel. »And continue his 14-day quarantine at his family’s home in Waterloo.

“I was like ‘whaaat’ but it turned out to be an eight hour wait,” Leahy said. “It’s nice to be home, though, to be comfortable and to know that I’ll be here until December 23.”

The biggest downside to the experience is financial.

The team raised funds for the trip, Leahy said, but that money is now gone and new funds will need to be raised to compete in the rescheduled Junior World Cup. The International Hockey Federation voted last week to attempt to host the tournament in 2022, with South Africa as the preferred destination.

Team Canada earned the trip to South Africa by winning the Pan American Junior Championships, beating Chile, Argentina and Uruguay along the way.

Catherine J. Martinez