As Remembrance Day nears, it is a time to remember our fallen heroes that have protected us and our land over the generations. Despite the reality of the bravery and valor required to serve in the Armed Forces, a love of sport presents with it an opportunity to incorporate a sense of play while encouraging team-building and morale.
With the Canadian Armed Forces boasting a sports program that features more than 20,000 participants, it may be one of the largest organized programs among the militaries of the world. Each sport has its own patron, traditionally a General, who is encouraged to help promote their respective sport. They not only acknowledge the importance of fitness, but have authority to resolve issues, solicit needed changes and attend national tournaments.
Captain Heather Smith of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Maritime Proving and Evaluation Unit) is one of many remarkable women helping to shatter barriers about the increased role of women in the military while serving as a role model for young girls. Like her gallant colleagues, she is one of many military athletes with a flair for sport that have taken part in National Sports Championships available for members of all branches of the CAF.
Honored in October 2013 as the Canadian Female Athlete of the Year in CAF, it is an honor that recognizes her remarkable breadth of athletic talent. Competing in four sports while serving her country, Smith is the embodiment of what women can truly accomplish in life.
Competing with the 14 Wing Greenwood team, she has carved a remarkable legacy as a hockey player. The 2011 CF National Women’s Hockey Championship at Canadian Forces Base Borden (in the Simcoe Region of Ontario) saw Smith earn the Royal Canadian Legion Sportsmanship Award while her teammate Josee Cholette was named to the All-Star Team. One year later, Smith was named as the Most Valuable Player of the Championship Game at the CAF National Women’s Hockey Championships.
In addition, she would also compete with 14 Wing Greenwood at the legendary 4-on-4 World Pond Hockey Championships in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Playing alongside Captain Dawn MacAuley, Corporal Lindsay Williams and civilian Pamela Pachal, they would claim the 2012 World Championship.
Decked out in stunning powder blue Royal Canadian Air Force jerseys and camouflage snow pants, it was also an opportunity to connect with fans of the game. By visiting students at Donald Fraser Elementary School and meeting former members of the RCAF, Smith and her teammates earned a new legion of fans.
Returning to Plaster Rock in 2013, the 14 Wing Greenwood squad was part of a 12-team ladies division competing for the crown of world champion. Gracing the frozen surface of Roulston Lake, the squad qualified for the gold medal game but suffered a visceral overtime loss by a 10-9 tally against a squad from Washburn, Maine.
Her prominence on the ice was not limited to just hockey. Like many other female hockey players, from Canadian Interuniversity Sport, Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the NCAA, Smith was also part of the Red Bull Crashed Ice races. Competing in the 2012 Halifax race, she would capture first place in the women’s event. By virtue of finish among the top two racers in her region, she would move on to the national Red Bull competition at Niagara Falls in December 2012.
As part of 14 Wing Greenwood athletics, her love of sport also brought her into summer events. At the 2012 Slo-Pitch Championships at CFB Borden, she would help the team advance to the CAF Women’s national championship game. Her athletic skills were on display as she garnered Championship Game MVP honors. In 2013, she was named to the Tournament All-Star Team as she proudly served as her team’s captain.
Of note, she would even test her mettle by competing in triathlon competitions. At the CAF Atlantic Regional Triathlon Championships, she would post the fastest time of all female competitors from Atlantic Canada.
Although there is no Wheaties box for Smith or a multi-million dollar contract, she is part of a new generation of women changing our cultural norms through the use of sport. While she balances athletics with the demanding (and sometimes thankless) job of protecting our borders, it is important to remember that Smith is one of many Canadians we have to thank for giving us the opportunity to enjoy the life we have today. Although we can never repay our military heroes, we can recognize them. To see Smith and other members of the military take great pride in their sporting efforts reflects an All-Canadian spirit that makes it vital to remember why our fallen soldiers sacrificed their lives.