Hayley Wickenheiser, an accomplished Olympic athlete, received an honorary doctorate of laws from Ryerson last Wednesday.
Wickenheiser is known to many as one of the best female hockey players in the world. She competed in all five Olympics that women’s hockey has been a sport, winning silver in the first year and four straight gold medals since then, including the 2014 Sochi Games. She also competed in one Summer Games as a member of Canada’s softball team, but stopped playing competitively afterwards to spend more time with her son.
However, Wickenheiser the athlete is only one part of who she is, said Lisa Haley, one of Wickenheiser’s assistant coaches at the Sochi games. Haley introduced Wickenheiser at the convocation ceremony.
“What many people are not aware of is the passion (Wickenheiser) has for people,” said Haley, the head coach of the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team. “When the devastating floods struck Calgary and High River 18 months ago, (Wickenheiser) was on the front lines for days on end.”
Haley also says her friendship with Wickenheiser is one that will last a lifetime.
Wickenheiser’s off-ice actions combined with her on-ice accomplishments made Haley decide to nominate her for an honorary doctorate during the summer.
To be considered for an honorary doctorate, a candidate must have made extraordinary contributions to academia or society. Awarding the doctorate must also enhance the reputation of Ryerson, according to the school’s website.
The selection committee reviewed and accepted Haley’s application and reached out to Wickenheiser. Once the details were worked out between Wickenheiser and the university about when she would come to campus, Haley looked to see what other ways Wickenheiser could be involved at Ryerson.
Coincidentally,last Wednesday was Ryerson’s women’s hockey team’s home opener. Wickenheiser dropped the puck alongside Natalie Spooner, a teammate from the Sochi Olympics.
Wickenheiser said she was happy to help and felt honoured just to be receiving the doctorate.
“I feel really honoured and privileged to be recognized by Ryerson,” said Wickenheiser after the ceremony.
Wickenheiser graduated last year from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology after 16 years of study. She said receiving the honorary degree brought back good memories from her own graduation.
“I also think that there’s a great satisfaction and peace that comes to all of us when we know that we worked and sacrificed for something,” she said.
Some of Wickenheiser’s other accomplishments include the Order of Canada, Olympic flag-bearer in Sochi, taking the athletes’ oath at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and MVP at both the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games. Earlier this year, she was also elected to the International Olympic Committee’s athlete commission.
She is now playing hockey at the U of C while pursuing a master’s degree. She hopes to play in the 2018 Olympics.
“I would like to continue to play as long as I can, and feel healthy enough to, with the national team, and carry on towards the next Olympics.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Oct. 22, 2014.