Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser on Her Second Act

When you hear the name Hayley Wickenheiser, there’s a good chance you picture her skating on a rink with a gold medal hanging around her neck and a Canadian flag flying behind her. The former professional hockey player attended the Olympic Games six times (including the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 as a member of Canada’s softball team), bringing home four golds and one silver. Not to mention winning seven IIHF Women’s World Championships, being the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional hockey league and being named to the Order of Canada for her contributions to women’s hockey. But since hanging up her skates in 2017, Wickenheiser has picked up a stethoscope: The Saskatchewan native is currently in her third year of medical school at the University of Calgary, a workload she balances with her position as assistant director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
 

enRoute You were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last fall. How did it feel to be recognized only two years after retiring?
 

Hayley Wickenheiser It was a surreal experience. It didn’t really hit me until I was there, looking out and seeing the greats of the game – people like Mario Lemieux and Frank Mahovlich. That’s when it hit home that I’m part of a small company of people who are the best of the best. It was a big honour; to be the seventh woman inducted is pretty cool as well.
 

ER What’s a typical day like for you, balancing your role with the Leafs and your medical school schedule?
 

HW I head to the rink in the morning – we could be at one of three – and I might be working with the Marlies or the Leafs, depending on the day. I meet with the development staff and coaching staff, and we make a plan for what to work on with the players, then go on the ice and execute it. Afterward, I head to the hospital for my shift in emergency – I’m in Toronto for six months completing some electives. So typically, it’s hockey by day and medicine by night.
 

ER What drove you to go into medicine after your hockey career?
 

HW I always wanted to go into medicine. When I was nine, our neighbour’s daughter got run over by the grocery delivery truck in our little town, and she was badly injured. I remember going to the hospital to visit her and seeing the doctors and nurses and how the environment was, and just really gravitating toward it; I like helping people. Until I was about 12, I thought I would go to Harvard Medical School. But then the hockey offers came around. My parents are teachers, and education has always been important, so I knew I would go back and finish my degree. I eventually finished my bachelor’s, my master’s and now here I am.
 

ER Are there any similarities between competitive hockey and being in an emergency room?
 

HW They are very similar, actually. They’re both full of pressure. You have to work in a team, and you have to make decisions quickly. You never know what is going to come through the door at the hospital and you never know what’s going to happen on the ice. Everybody has an ego that has to be managed. You have to stay calm and you have to be well trained. So, I find they are the same minus the physical differences: hockey is more physically demanding on the body, but with the long hours, there’s a lot of stress in medicine.
 

ER How does your medical experience help you in hockey?
 

HW Since I’m older starting out in medicine, I’m much calmer in situations than I may have been in my twenties. And medicine puts things in perspective: you see people having the worst day of their life when they come into the ER, so when you go to a hockey practice, it seems trivial that somebody’s upset because their new skates don’t feel good on their feet. At the same time, everybody’s problems are relative. We see major tragedies in medicine, but they don’t diminish the pressure and stresses that pro athletes go through every day. I’ve learned to have empathy and to not make things bigger than they are.

February 25, 2020
A black and white photo of three Hayley Wickenheiser portraits

ER Since you have been in medicine, have you ever had to treat anyone on the ice?
 

HW Myself! I got a puck in the face a few weeks ago with the Marlies that required eight stitches. It was the first time I’ve ever been cut in the face my entire hockey career. Fortunately for me, it’s pretty hard to stitch your own face, so I let the Marlies doctors do it. But I knew I needed stitches in the moment, and I was just trying to keep the players calm because there was a lot of blood. Otherwise, I haven’t had to, and that would be for the medical staff on site.
 

ER In your Instagram bio you say, “I fly a lot!” Where do you travel to?
 

HW I do a lot of speaking all over Canada, and my role with the International Olympic Committee takes me around the world – to Lausanne, Switzerland, and Germany primarily, but also places like Rio de Janeiro and Peru. Plus, I travel for pleasure. I’m probably on the road about 150 to 200 days a year.
 

ER When you are travelling for work or speaking engagements, how do you spend your downtime?
 

HW One of the things about being an athlete is you never get downtime – you get in, you go to the rink, to the hotel, and then you are out. So now I do try to go and explore when I’m travelling. I don’t like to go to the touristy places; I like to find out where real people live and check out obscure spots and cool restaurants. And I’m always looking for places to work out outside, so that takes me to interesting places in different cities.
 

ER What kind of workout spots do you look for?
 

HW Could be anything: In Lausanne I found a great set of stairs so I could do stair repeats by the water, or I like to find green spaces where I can do track workouts. Often, I will research ahead of time so that I’m well prepared and can plan out my days accordingly. And I never stay at a hotel that doesn’t have a good gym.
 

See what Hayley packs in her carry-on here.

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