"You got to live it. No regrets!"
Abi is not a stranger to Osaka. For some years, she (and Stephanie De Groof, KHC Dragons) took care of the sponsored athletes and at every European- or Worldcup, you could find her shaking around at the bracelet bar. Until she swapped her -behind the scenes career - into a -run in the spotlights. Last year, she became a Belgian Red Panther and on Sunday you can catch her on the hockey pitch with her KHC Dragons team.
Raye: ‘Both of my parents were playing hockey on a social level. My mom will even tell you she was pretty good at it. (laughs) They even got engaged during some hockey trip, so the hockey DNA runs through my veins, although I started to play rather late when I was eleven. I enjoyed lots of sports at school such as: netball, tennis, cricket, soccer …It was there that I fell for the ball.’
‘I was born in England, but when I was fourteen my parents moved to Canada for a change of lifestyle. My dad was in a stressful job, so he retired and my mom became a teacher in Kelowna. Hockey was not a big sport in Canada, and of course, I was used to playing hockey at school on a water-based pitch. I really hated the fact that I had to play low-level hockey on a grass pitch. Very soon, I discovered that Vancouver was the place to be for hockey. It was a five-hour drive from our town, but my dad drove me there to have full weekends of hockey training.’
Abi laughs: ‘When I was getting older, I lived in Vancouver the whole summer, just to play hockey. If you want it, you have to have the drive, and take the drive as well.’
I love België
‘At seventeen, I became part of the Senior Canadian Team. I remember we literally won every national title when I was playing and studying at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. That was really fun. But I decided that I wanted more out of my hockey career and so I decided to come to Belgium. This was after the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow.
‘Moving to Belgium was a proper nightmare at the beginning. I had a bit of a problem with Wellington; two weeks before my departure, they told me there was no money for my salary. They actually gave me a no. But I turned it into a yes. (smiles)
‘I was literally so determined to come that I begged. They allowed me to come but I had to work my butt off. I never gave up on the dream of playing hockey. So I was coaching, playing and traveling the world with the Canadian team. For three years I was flying up and down until my coach decided that I couldn’t play in Europe anymore if I wanted to be part of the national team. That’s where my international career stopped. In the meantime, I kept training super hard.
‘Because I have the English nationality, I subscribed for the trials in England. These five weeks went so well, that they asked me to join the centralized squad. But that meant me moving to live in England, and I really wanted to stay in Belgium. Because I really love Belgium. I was really struggling with the decision. In the end, the coach got a heart-attack. And no, I didn’t have anything to do with that. (laughs) I never heard anything since, and I left it at that.
"It was a five hour drive from our town, but my dad drove me there to have full weekends of hockey."
The hunt for the Panthers
‘A few weeks later I ran into Anouk Raes, captain of the Panthers (we were playing at Wellington together), at that moment and she dropped an idea in my mind. Why don’t you join the Panthers? She said. She also dropped the idea with her coach, Ageeth Boomgaardt, and she made an appointment. But before we could even meet, she left the Panthers. So again, my national dream dropped into pieces.’
‘Luckily for me, I got a call from Adam and Niels with the message that they were still interested. And that’s where a year of paperwork started. You can’t imagine how much paperwork I had to go through. My year can best be described as waiting, signing, side routes, files, references and it ended with a vote. A vote where it only depends on the people in the room and where you can’t have your say. I trained like I was possessed, even though I knew there would be a chance that I would not make it. The fact that NVA was out of the parlement when my naturalization was on the agenda, helped a lot. Believe it or not, but my papers got signed, and finally, I could join the squad to play on an international level again.’
Hard work pays off
‘I really lived up to this moment as my ultimate long term goal. I never had the guarantee that I would make it and still, I worked hard for it every day. I stayed super motivated and I did everything to get it because if it would have been my fault to not make it, I would have never forgiven myself. In the end, the control was completely out of my hands, but one thing I knew, I was ready. So my advice to anyone who wants to reach a certain goal in life is: The only way to get there is to go for it. You got to live it. No regrets!’
‘Where did I get the strength? My parents always told me: The only thing you can do is your best. I have to know I did my very best and if I do so, there is no fail, only learning. I also believe, if you want something, you will get there. There are always big struggles, like the endless paperwork and the voting, moments of no control. If you keep your habits steady, living like an athlete, the right nutrition. And I know myself here very well. If I buy shit, I will eat that shit. So I simply don’t buy shit. It is that simple. Another example. First I trained in a cheap gym. I eventually paid more for a gym closer by. This helped me to save time and train longer. In the end, the extra money was so totally worth it. Because if you really want it, you always find the extra time or money or energy to do it.
‘Prioritising what is important. When you do first what is most important to you, you never have to sacrifice. For example, my daily workout routine is number one. If that means I have to miss a nice dinner or a coffee with friends. That is just the way it is. The gym is one. My parents would never understand this. My mom always said: relax, relax, relax, why are you doing this? Because it is my life, it is my job!’
Raye: ‘Hockey is my life, hockey is my job.’
‘Luckily my girlfriend (Ireen van den Assem, Oranje) totally gets it. She is exactly the same, so that helps. It is kind of funny. When we plan for a holiday, we always have to plan our workouts. So one of the most important standards is if there is a gym in the neighborhood. And no, sit-ups in the room or horizontal yoga in the bed don’t count as a workout. (laughs out loud)
The time Ireen and myself have to hang out is very rare. We both play hockey at the highest level, so time is a precious thing to us. It takes a lot of communication and good planning. We have a shared agenda, it would get messy if we wouldn’t. Athletes are rather selfish and you have to be. Really! When for example after a long training session, one of us can’t take a drive of an hour anymore, it means we will not see each other that night, but it also means resting time for the body. Which is super important. It is hard to hear that your beloved one can’t see you because of hockey, but it is reality. (thinks) Also with the Olympics for example. I really lived up to that moment. It is a big dream to go. As you all know, we didn’t make it. Ireen’s team qualified for Tokyo. Was that tough? Yes, but it was less hard then I thought it would be. I was genuinely happy for her. We support each other’s careers. It is really the first time in my life that I can be so excited about the success of someone else.’
This must be love
‘That doesn’t change the fact that I am still super disappointed about not going to the Olympics. But there is one thing I learned. Growing up also means that no matter what happens and no matter how hard you want something. If you fuck up, don’t take the happiness and success away from someone else.
Our plans for the future were changed in five minutes. After these Olympics, we were planning to travel and play hockey overseas. Now I decided to go on until Paris and that’s a decision that also affects Ireen, but she fully supports me and my ambitions. I am not giving up on the Olympic dream. Not yet! (MK)