This month, veteran Canadian soccer goalie Karina LeBlanc plays in her fifth and final FIFA World Cup competition. When she's not blocking balls, the Olympic medalist devotes her time to UNICEF's No Child Too Far program (that, and watching The Bachelorette). Here, Leblanc shares some of the secrets to her success, including how she knew when would be the right time to hang up her cleats.
It doesn't take much to be another person's good memory
My favourite quote is from Maya Angelou. She said people won't always remember what you said or did, but they'll always remember how you made them feel. That is just so true. I always try to be genuine when I meet people. Especially when I'm meeting young kids, I remember being that child. Once when I was younger, I finally got to meet one of my idols and he had no time for me. That made me feel terrible and I'll never forget it. And then I met another professional athlete who I wasn't even a big fan of. It was Ken Griffey, Jr. I don't even like baseball! But he gave me that extra five seconds and the power and impact of that was huge. He made me feel like I was important and valuable and I realized that I never want to be that person who doesn't have an extra five seconds. I want to always be someone who is adding to another person's experience.
The game is the good part
We've spent the last three years since the Olympics preparing for this World Cup - the physical, the technical, the tactical and the mental. People always say goaltending especially is 90-per-cent mental. I'm lucky because my perspective has always been that the games are the rewards for all of the work we do. Thinking about it that way keeps me from getting nervous. A lot of my teammates like the nerves, but that's not me. I reach a point where I think, okay, God has a plan and I'm going to be who he wants me to be on the field today, so I'm just going to go out there and enjoy it. Even if a ball gets by me, my mentality will be, okay, there is no way that is going to happen again. And penalty kicks - I love them! They're an opportunity. I make one save and I'm a hero.
When the time is right, you'll know
The decision to retire was something I went back and forth with so many times and I thought, I want to decide before the World Cup. I sat down with my family and my coach and I just thought, would I rather hang up my cleats in Canada or Brazil [the location of the 2016 Olympics]? The finals this year are in Vancouver, which is where this whole adventure started for me. If I am lucky enough to get there and give my last wave on the field to Canada and my family and friends, I don't think there could be a better time.
Life happens off the field
I've come to realize how important it is to have passions outside of my sport. When I started, I was totally obsessed. Now I have so many other interests, which add so much to my life and also make me a better athlete. Some of it is having fun. With the team we will get together and watch
The Bachelorette or Scandal and just be normal. My work with UNICEF has been so important in terms of this realization that my purpose on this Earth is so much bigger than what I do on the field. Just the other day, I was working with UNICEF's No Child Too Far program and there was a young girl who told me, "I know I'm smart and I can achieve whatever I want to." She was hugging me and crying. I got that same feeling that I get when I make a big save.
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