A Girl in a Men’s World | Emmanuelle Blais

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I try to live my life and direct it the way you would manage a business. I set out short, medium and long term goals when I start something. I believe it’s important to know where you come from, but also have a vision of what you want and where you want to be in order to grow.  Set out goals, and do everything you can to achieve it, is, what gives meaning to my life. Making sure I do something every day to better myself in some way or another. I believe I had to learn quite fast, not to listen to other people’s opinion and their negativity. The best advice I can give to any little girl starting hockey or any sport; believe in yourself, and know that you are allowed to be strong and athletic no matter what others say.

So this is my story;

I was born in a loving and hard working family in Montreal. My dad worked 2 jobs, while my mom stayed at home to raise her three kids. I started skating at the age of 3 years old. My father always made a rink in the backyard for my brother and my cousins, and I wanted to play too. At that time, not many girls played hockey, so I started with boys and played boys hockey until I was 16 years old. I remember my dad taking me to the rink every day after school at 4pm, for free skate. I owe him my whole career, as anyone who’s watched me play will say I made it because of my skating skills.

Quickly I realized that if I wanted to make the Elite teams, I would need to work twice as hard as all the boys because girls were not welcome in hockey yet. My parents took a lot of heat from other parents; “You daughter is taking a spot away from a boy that deserves to play”,” your girl needs to go back to the kitchen…” and so on, are things they heard. As I think back onto it, my dad was very “avant-gardiste” and really always had my back and stood up for me. There was a lot of mean and bad stuff said, but then there were also some great coaches that stood up for me too, and took me on their teams regardless of what other parents had to say. I can think of one really important coach whom I still have contact with; Daniel Drolet. He coached me my last year with the boys for the Montreal Maroons Midget Espoir team. I was the first girl to play that level in Quebec and Dan really made a huge difference in my career. At that point, he made me believe in myself and in my skills as a player. He took me because I deserved to be there, regardless of my gender or other external factors, and I will be forever thankful to him. My amazing teammates of the time treated me like a sister, often defended me in games but saw me as an equal in practice and absolutely never game in an inch. They made me progress and I like to believe I made them better too. In the end, my young career thought me the value of hard work and made me a relentlessness player and person.

Clarkson cup 2011 with Caroline Ouellette

 

I made the switch to girls hockey after midget Espoir, where I played 1 year with the Dawson College Blues, a great organization with amazing coaches where I learned to be a better player but also a better student and person. The support staff there is amazing and really helped me find the fit for my upcoming college career and my SAT’S and L-Sat’s. I also played one year with the Montreal Stars (now the Montreal Canadiennes), before making my way to the University Of Minnesota-Duluth to have a NCAA career. In the meantime, I made team Quebec U-18, went to nationals (lost in the final against Ontario red) and made team Canada -22 national team.  I wanted to be a UMD bulldog ever since I was 15 years old and had met coach Miller one summer when she came and visit her Montreal players. Looking back onto it, picking the University of Minnesota-Duluth was the best decision of my whole career. Coach miller, alongside Caroline Ouellette, Julie chu, Coach Schuler and the other coaches had a meaningful impact on my career and life. They really shape me into the player and person that I have now become.  I had the chance to win 2 NCAA division one championships, become an all-American and Patty Kazmaier finalist, but beyond all that I discovered the true meaning of a 2nd family. A family far away from home. Duluth is a beautiful town and has an amazing community that really embraces its athletic program.

NCAA

In 4 years, I was taught the value of teamwork, relying on other people for success, but holding myself accountable too. I ate breakfast, went to classes, played hockey, worked out, studied with my teammates. I knew which one snored, which one hated black licorice and which one absolutely loved it. I learned to accept and respect others for exactly what they are. Winning was the bonus. I learned to fall in love with the process, not the end result. My best memories are the 6 am workouts, the runs uphill, the workouts in the woods, the kayak races, and the blood, sweat, and tears we dropped together as a team. One big lesson came on a Monday after we had swept the Wisconsin Badgers (big rival) my sophomore year. Yes, we had won both games, but a player on our team was not respectful of another one on the bus, and coach got us to practice no pucks. We skated for two hours straight, and for the first time in my life, I wondered why I played hockey. Everybody got punished. We were not allowed in our cozy and beautiful locker room for two weeks after that incident. Coach made us understand that respecting and embracing the players by your side is more important than winning. A lesson I try to live by in my work and family life. That year we went on to win the regular season, the playoffs, and the NCAA championship. Coach Miller always knew how to get the best out of each of her players and that is why she is the best leader and mentor I ever got to play for. Some days I hated her – like that one time she kicked me out of a game, or when she would call me out during video sessions my senior year – but most days I loved her! Coach Miller never cared how many goals, what your name was or if you were a national team player or not, she treated everybody equally, and all her players respected her for it. I realized her impact on my career and life, shortly after I was done UMD, and some days I still miss her, her wise words and guidance. I graduated the University with a major in communications and a minor is psychology.

NCAA Final with coach Miller in 2010

 

AFTER COLLEGE

After my 4 years at Duluth, I came back to Montreal to play for the Montreal Stars. I was still in the national Program and was fortunate enough to come back to a league established by players, for continuing my career. This season is my 7th season with the team, that is now affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens. The team and our support staff are absolutely amazing and everybody is there for the love of the game. My teammates are like 21 sisters from different mothers. I would do anything for them. This year, we played at the Bell center this year, in front of a crowd of 6 thousand people. It was like a dream come true for most of us.  It is crazy to see how far the sport has come, and how far it can still go. As a kid, I wanted to be on the Montreal Canadiens and play in the NHL, my heroes were Mario Lemieux or Patrick Roy. Hopefully, nowadays, little girls want to grow to play for the Montreal CanadieNNES and become a Marie-Phillip Poulin or a Kim St-Pierre. Unfortunately, for now, we do not make a penny to play, so all the players have a day job, except for a few on the Olympic team. The goal is for the league to be able to play its players eventually.

CHALLENGES – NEVER GIVE UP

I got cut from the national program in 2013, and that is when my life took an unexpected turn. I was a bit lost and trying to figure out what I liked other then hockey was a bit hard. I guess it is the biggest problem with having a great  “amateur sport” career. Finding a second passion, that got me hyped up as much as scoring a goal winning goal seemed to be impossible at the time. So I went on and explored, I worked in accounting for one of the friend’s company and tried the office job, but I am the way too hyper for that so I lasted my contract and that was it. I found my second passion and work by chance really and because of a really good friend of mine; Yannick. He, who is now my strength coach, convinced me to try CrossFit and right away I fell in love with the sport. For the first time, I was in a place where I had to do the work alone, and it was so different than anything I had experienced before. It was me against the clock, me against myself. I had no interest in competing at first, I just loved the hour spent in the class, where I had to be in the moment, focusing on each part of the workout instead of the whole. If you think of it as a whole, a CrossFit workout can be quite depressing, for example, 150 wallball shots.. is quite long. But if you break it down in sets of 10, and focus on 1 to 10, it gets easier. Kind of how I like to live my life, one day at the time, step by step, making the best of each moment good or bad. I had the opportunity to start coaching CrossFit and did that as a side job, then it became my full-time job. I absolutely love helping people make lifestyle changes and live a full and healthy life. My biggest reward as a trainer has to be the confidence and joy my clients gain, day after day, I try to make them see the “wow” as I like to call it, in the smallest victory possible. To me, getting your first pull-up or doing 150 of them is just as equally awesome, and running 1K for the first time in your life is just as nice as running your 40th marathon. I used to get hyped up for winning games, and scoring goals now I get hyped up from people achieving their own personal goals whatever those are.

CrossFit games 2015 with my coach Yannick and friend Karim

 

In that sense, I decided to join up with 3 partners and open up an athletic venue In Verdun called; Summit; athletic station. It will open in the next few weeks, so the details can not be fully disclosed just yet.

In 2015, I also partnered up with my friend to create “Legends Fitwear” a fitness clothing brand. All of our clothing is proudly made in Montreal, even our fabric is shown here. Our slogan is “be your own legend” which to me means: Embracing yourself and the people that surround you. Finding your gifts, passions and what drives you. It means to wear confidence and influence others in a positive way. To discover your own playground, and play every day. We wanted to create an eco-friendly brand, that encourages people to start living a healthy life.

After 29 years, the biggest advice I can share with anyone is this: when you think it’s over, and a door closes… just wait there will be about 100 more opening for you if you work hard. The key is to create your own luck, create your opportunities and never expect anyone to hand things to you.

 

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