Goalkeeper Labbe blazing trail for Canada

Cary, United States: Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, who will be right in the firing line for Canada at the women’s World Cup in France, knows all about the fight for equality in a male-dominated sport.
The 32 year-old is the player who wanted to take on the men at their own game, literally.
After bringing home a bronze medal for Canada in the 2016 Olympics, Labbe sought to rekindle a dying passion for football by training with a professional Canadian men’s team.
She joined the Calgary Foothills, a minor league club that serves as a feeder outfit for Major League Soccer in the United States, in a bid to keep sharp and show her credentials.
“As a goalkeeper I think it’s really good because you’re facing fast shots, hard shots, the speed of the game is really quick,” says Labbe, who grew up playing on men’s hockey and football teams, training with the men.
Labbe’s performances were such that she ended up in the team for a 4-0 win in a pre-season game, but the overseeing Canadian Professional Development League barred her from featuring in any future matches, insisting on a “gender-specific league.”
“It was difficult to be told that you can’t play because of something that’s completely out of your control,” Labbe says.
“It’s not something that I can go home and work on or change. My gender is my gender.”
Despite her frustrations, Labbe hopes her efforts inspire other women “not to limit themselves because of rules and because of gender.”
“If you can put yourself in an environment where you’re going to be pushed and you can show that you can overcome challenges with skill and pace… that’s really important for development.
“I think it’s really important we celebrate those women.”
She now turns out for the North Carolina Courage in the American National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), where she is put through her paces in training sessions by a male goalkeeping coach, Nathan Thackery.
“Hold, drive, balance, good!” Thackery barks as he puts Labbe through her paces on the training ground, peppering her with shots.
“It’s always kind of pushing me, keeping me on the edge of my limits,” she says of the sessions.
No limits
Amongst her club team-mates, Labbe — set to start for Canada when they kick off their World Cup campaign against Cameroon in Montpellier on Monday — is known for her humility. — AFP