Wickenheiser leads the way

ROBYN STUBBS -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

She brings "playing like a girl" to a whole new level.

Carrying her latest Olympic gold bauble for women's hockey, Hayley Wickenheiser took the stage yesterday at UBC Robson Square to inspire other women to get involved in sports.

Wickenheiser, who became the first female hockey player to break into the men's pro league in Finland in 2003, has two gold and one silver since women's hockey became an official Olympic sport in 1998.

As if that wasn't enough, Wickenheiser, who is married and has a six-year-old son, also competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney for Canada's women's fastball team.

However, breaking into hockey - as a girl - wasn't easy, Wickenheiser told a crowd of mostly women yesterday at a Women in Sports conference.

She had to deal with changing in closets because ice rinks didn't have a female locker room, to dealing with boys' parents who told her she didn't belong.

"It wasn't always easy," she conceded. "I learned early to develop a thick skin. But it prepared me for what was to come further in my career ... and taught me to believe in myself."

And, on International Women's Day, Wickenheiser also wanted to put to rest any fear that girls can't be girls if they play hockey.

"For parents that are concerned your young girls are going to lose that side, it's not even an issue," she said. "They don't have to be concerned their daughters are going to change if they play. They can still be feminine."


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