• Andrea Neil

Looking Inwards

Updated: 1 day ago

Looking inwards.

You hear this phrase, or a version of it, a lot these days. I’m not sure in 1992, lying in bed recovering from gangrene, that I would have been able to articulate what that process meant to me. Although that was a time of intense personal reflection, I think I was too young with too much in front of me to understand the process with any real wisdom.

In 2007, when I retired as a player, I began to look at everything from a different perspective or, at least, with enough life experience to begin to ask myself some more meaningful questions.

Where in 1992 I had to think about what I wanted to do with my athletic career, now I had to make meaning from it all and decide what the purpose of investing all my time and energy into one activity had been. What did it really teach me? What was I left with now that it was all done and over? What would I do next?

Serendipitously, it was at that time that I happened to attend a speech that not only helped me find meaning but helped me to decide how I could move forward into the next stage of my life.

General Romeo Dallaire, the former UN Force Commander in Rwanda during the 1992 genocide, was giving a speech at the Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver, BC. I went because a former doctor with the Women’s National Team program and her husband invited me to go with them. As he spoke about his experience witnessing one of the worst tragedies of the 20th Century, I was struck by the words of this humanitarian and was moved by his reflections and learnings.

During the post-speech question and answer period, General Dallaire was asked if Rwanda would be able to recover after such horrific crimes against humanity.

He said if Rwanda was to heal as a country it would be through the women, not the men who were too wounded as a population. However, with support and rehabilitation from the women of the country, future generations would be supported through their mothers’ and other women’s care, nurturance, and love.

Not a lot of people know that there was a moment in 2007 when I almost walked away from sport. My playing career was over and I thought perhaps that I had given enough. But, listening to Dallaire’s message of helping the world heal by supporting women gave me clarity. I felt then, as I still do now, that sport is one of the most powerful ways the world has to lift up people in society. I felt then, that there is still a lot that needs to be fixed with how we manage sport in Canada, especially on the women’s side of things.

I realized in that moment of ‘looking inwards,’ that there was still more to do and that I was not yet ready to leave. So, for better or for worse, I plunged back in and dedicated myself to the coaching and development of women’s and girls’ soccer and tried to make a difference. There have been many more moments of learning since then; some beautiful, some painful and hard. There have been many more opportunities for looking inwards, but those are stories for another day.

As Nelson Mandela so eloquently wrote, “… I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

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