Friday, August 14, 2020

Are you a short janitor? No, she’s a woman who made ice hockey history

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Manon Rhéaume, 48 today, was the first woman to compete with men in a professional sports league. She did it in 1992, 28 years ago, in a preseason game of the Professional Ice Hockey League in Florida. She played 20 minutes and conceded two goals. Enough to secure a place on her club’s team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many did not realize that there was a goalkeeper, they thought it was a short goalkeeper. After all, the league was full of short goalkeepers and she played in a position where size is measured by her nerves, reflexes, agility, and heart. She was 20 years old, but the fact is that she had already made history the previous year, being the first woman to play in the First Division of the Canadian League. In her first game, a disc crashed into her mask and caused a deep injury to her eyebrow, but Rhéaume refused to leave the field.

“I would be a liar if I said I don’t use Rhéaume for advertising,” Phil Expósito, Lightning’s president and manager, told reporters at the time. But I don’t care about the fact that she’s a woman. If I had a horse that knew how to walk and stop a disc I would also be playing in the goal, “she added. Retired today, Manon remembers these days of competition with a smile from ear to ear. She says that immediately the news of her debut spread and that the advertising offers were immediate. Even the men’s magazine ‘Playboy’ made her an offer to pose nude. She rejected the offer. And sadly, in many interviews she had to check that male presenters and sports journalists were more interested in her beauty or if she had broken any of her nails while playing. Consequences of a masculinized world like hockey in the 80s and 90s. They even asked her how she did it to train and play if she had her menstrual period. to which she cynically replied that it was when she performed her best performances.

Between 1992 and 1997 he played in seven different teams and played 24 games. Summoned by her country, she participated with the Canadian team in the 1998 Nagano Olympics where she made her ice hockey debut in some games and took the silver medal. Since 2000, she has collaborated with various teams to create women’s ice hockey teams and has also trained the Detroit Little Caesar’s girls under 12 team in Michigan, where she lives. She has also founded an organization that helps girls fulfill their sports dreams, the Manon Rhéaume Foundation. It has never been easy. But I always wanted to play hockey. I love hockey. I’d rather play hockey than do anything else. If you have that kind of desire, I think you can achieve what you want to achieve, ”is one of her phrases that has traveled numerous forums. She also believes that “In life, not just in sports, if you don’t try, you can’t know what you can do.”

Success is the fruit of almost a lifetime in a goal. Her father, Pierre, a contractor by profession, also ran the ice rink in his town and was the coach of his two brothers’ team. Rhéaume learned to skate at the age of three and debuted as a goalkeeper two years later, when his father was missing a player in a tournament. “I said to my father, ‘I want to be your goalkeeper,'” he recalls. He laughed, but thought about it. “Why not? You do the same at home with your brothers ». Rhéaume also did ballet, skiing and even a little baseball, but already at 12 she knew what she wanted. He did not have discrimination problems until he was 15 years old, when he entered the lower division of the Youth Leagues and the players tried to discourage her by throwing the discs at his face.

Manon, with three of his helmets. / THE CANADIAN PRESS

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