TORONTO — The moment every athlete dreads came just 11 days ago for Karina LeBlanc, when she walked off the pitch as a player for the last time.
The 35-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C., officially retired when her Chicago Red Stars were eliminated in the semifinals of the National Women’s Soccer League semifinals, and said Thursday, so far so good.
“You never know how you’re going to handle it, you never know what it’s going to feel like. I know I’m doing well now, But I know there will be moments when it won’t be easy,” LeBlanc said.
The veteran goalkeeper was in Toronto for the Canadian Olympic Committee’s announcement of Game Plan, an initiative to help athletes transition through to successful post-athletic careers. LeBlanc, who made her debut for Canada at 18, also had meetings scheduled for potential work — including in broadcasting — while in Toronto, and also in New York.
“I think it’s like with any athlete, you just want to do the next steps,” she said. “Trying to figure out the next step, but at the same time I’m excited about what’s next, because I was able to prepare a bit. It wasn’t an injury that pushed me out, or I didn’t go because I wasn’t good enough, and as an athlete I think that’s a big thing too, I left feeling good enough.
“That’s huge. I know so many of my colleagues have had different ways of exiting.”
LeBlanc, who played in two Olympics, retired from the international game at what would be her fifth World Cup last summer in Vancouver, announcing her plans prior to Canada’s opening game. Canada was ousted in the quarter-finals by England.
“It’s been bittersweet. . .Getting to that last lap in Vancouver on home soil and doing it front of the Canadians, it was what I always wanted. I wanted it in the final, but it was emotional. It’s hard as an athlete to say this, but I was actually proud,” she said.
“Then I went to Chicago and ended my professional career. It’s interesting because exactly what Game Plan is about, that preparation, I think I’ve had some time to prepare. I’m a week out, and I’m doing good.”
LeBlanc has done sideline commentary work for Fox TV. She’s also done a great deal of work with young players.
“It goes back to the greater purpose, I want to impact for the positive, and I think that’s my clear vision,” she said of her future. “Hopefully that’s on television, and I get to express myself on camera, which I kind of like.
“But it’s also even a bigger purpose and bigger picture. The future athletes who are going to retire, the future generation, the young kids, that’s still a huge passion of mine. And I don’t want to leave that. Literally every day I wake up ready to be inspired by something new and it’s not just going to be one thing now. The world is my oyster, and it sounds like such a huge cliche, but that’s really my mentality, I’m thinking ‘Wow, it’s going to be exciting.'”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press