Jayna Hefford is a hockey legend and on November 12th will be the sixth woman to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. She is one of Canada’s most decorated athletes and competed in five Olympic games winning four gold and one silver medal. She has competed in twelve world championships and has had one of the most impressive hockey careers of all time. She is a role model on many levels.
Jayna is the Interim Commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
For our second Zvelle In Conversation we collaborated with our friends at CAN Fund to celebrate three phenomenal Canadian athletes. Read Elle’s interview with Jayna below to see why we are so inspired by Jayna’s passion and her dedication to her craft.
Elle: You are the sixth woman to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. This is a big achievement. How does it feel?
Jayna: It is a huge honor and it’s one of those things that whether you are a male or female player you never grow up dreaming of getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame, you dream of winning championships, playing in the Olympics and different things.
After you retire there is a waiting period of three years and I think it’s really nice as it allows you to reflect back on your career. An honor like this is so much more encompassing than just what you did on the ice. All the people that were part of that journey and helped you get there from childhood coaches to teammates. It’s just a huge honor for myself and my family. It’s amazing.
Elle: You didn’t grow up dreaming of being in the Hockey Hall of Fame, what did you grow up dreaming of?
Jayna: I always dreamed of playing hockey and when I was really young I dreamt of playing in the NHL. My parents were my support network and no one ever said to me you are not going to do that because you are a girl. They knew I had a passion for something and they encouraged that and provided the opportunities they could so I could play the game.
Then it evolved into playing in the Olympics once it became an Olympic sport. Once I was exposed to the possibilities that kind of evolved into what I wanted to be. Hockey has always been on my radar the entire time.
Elle: You’ve had an incredible career. What has been your biggest challenge?
Jayna: One would obviously be being a female athlete in a male-dominated sport. Early on it was breaking barriers and being able to stay the course when it wasn’t the most common or normal path. Another challenge was making a real career out of it. I competed for seventeen years on the national team and it’s something that I really committed to in terms of my training. I put off thinking about that next career because I wanted to follow that passion and stay in it for that long.
Elle: What about the mental resilience you needed to achieve and sustain this level of success?
Jayna: You are always being evaluated when you are part of a program like that. You play in the championships during the Olympics and as soon as they are over the process starts again. It’s not like you get to stay in a program just because you have been in it. That’s where a lot of that mental resilience comes in. You often hear the things you need to do better more than the things you did really well. It’s important to find a way to maintain that confidence in yourself when you are always being evaluated and judged.
Elle: How did you manage the highs and the lows?
Jayna: For me what I put a lot of importance on was consistency of performance. It was important for me to make sure I wasn’t really good one night and bad the next. It was always a priority for me. I wanted my teammates to know that I was going to give every day and I wanted my coaches to know that. I think it’s part of a personality trait too. For me, my personality is not too high on the highs and not too low on the lows. I try to just focus on the moment. That ability to do that allowed me to do what I did as an athlete.
Elle: From the time you started your career as a professional athlete until now have there been many changes or improvements for female athletes?
Jayna: I think challenges are always there and I think they change. When I was growing up it was the challenge of being a female athlete in a male-dominated sport and trying to appreciate what has happened in the past but knowing you are still painting a path forward. Now, for a young female hockey player, there are so many opportunities available but it’s not like we are at the place where we want to be yet. So, they will have different challenges and different barriers to break.
We are working on creating a truly professional women’s hockey league where female hockey players can be full-time hockey players and not have to have jobs on the side. It’s about female athletes getting the visibility and awareness they deserve as athletes, and not just female athletes.
Elle: You are the Interim Commissioner of the Women’s’ Hockey League. What does that job entail?
Jayna: The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is the premier women’s professional hockey league in the world. We have the majority of the Canadian and American Olympians in our program. We span two continents and three countries so we are a global league. The calibre of players is higher than it’s ever been. For me, it’s an opportunity to have an impact from a leadership perspective and the direction of the game, and to work towards a truly professional women’s hockey league. It’s an opportunity to sell our sport and get more and more people on board who support it and believe in the vision of the game and in our female athletes and the impact they have.
Elle: What made you take on this challenge?
Jayna: I think pretty simply it’s my passion for the sport. I think about things I want to instill in my own kids and that is to find a passion and work hard for it and let that passion drive you to what you want to achieve. I want them to see me doing something I love and for them to understand what it takes to fully invest in your passion. I hope that I can be an example of that to them.
Elle: You definitely are an example to them. Your children are young, do they know who you are?
Jayna: Not really! My oldest is five and a half and my son is three and a half and then I have a one and a half year-old. They know I played hockey but they don’t really have any concept or idea of the magnitude of this honor I have that they’ll be part of this weekend. I think about it and it’s okay with me and as they get older they will understand more about my career. Right now, they think if they are on TV or their names are on the radio they are famous. They are going to have fun with it all but they don’t entirely understand it all yet.
Elle: Are they into hockey?
Jayna: Yes. My oldest started playing in a learn to play program last year. We’ll see if it becomes a passion or not. I would encourage them all to try the sport because it’s a sport I love and I believe it’s very Canadian and it’s in our nature to learn the skills of the game but if that’s not their thing that’s totally cool too. I know my daughter loves art and painting and I’d love to see them get into music. I just want them to have a passion and understand that they have to work hard to achieve that in whatever area that they might be in.
Elle: That’s beautiful. What do you know for sure?
Jayna: I know for sure things will change and that time goes by really quickly and the kids keep getting bigger as you turn around. I know that I will always try to follow my passion.
Elle: Who inspires you?
Jayna: People that are really passionate about what they do. Because I think when you meet someone that is passionate about what they do it’s contagious and it makes you want to bring your own energy to what you are doing. I love meeting people who are really and truly passionate about what they do.
Photography: Mark Binks