Maple Ridge's Karina LeBlanc set to make history with 100th cap
It’s a milestone few soccer players can ever hope to reach, and for Maple Ridge’s Karina LeBlanc, her 100th cap will be nothing short of historic.
This Saturday, LeBlanc will become the first Canadian goalkeeper, male or female, to compete in 100 international matches, should she suit up for Team Canada in a friendly match against Brazil.
Leblanc becomes just the eighth Canadian women’s team member to have ever reached the Century Club, where she joins current teammates Christine Sinclair (177), Rhian Wilkinson (112), and Brittany Timko (103).
“Every time you put on the Team Canada jersey it’s special, but if someone told me years ago I’d still be playing and I’d have a 100 caps, I’d be like, that’s great, but I don’t think I’d really appreciate what that means,” says LeBlanc, who turns 32 on March 30.
Now in her second decade of international play, LeBlanc says her 100-game milestone is a monument to the sacrifices made by her parents.
The Leblanc family lived on the Caribbean island nation of Dominica until she was eight years old. Her father, Vans, was a bank manager, and her mother was a professor.
Despite her family’s relatively prosperous position in Dominica, the Leblancs came to Canada for a better life.
“We started from scratch,” says Leblanc. “My parents sacrificed so much for us.”
LeBlanc started out playing for the Golden Ears Royals before playing for the B.C. and Canadian junior development teams. That helped land her a scholarship at the University of Nebraska, and after graduating in 2000, she turned pro.
However, LeBlanc’s soccer career hasn’t been all smiles and cheers, she says. Injuries in 2004 and 2007 had her questioning wether her soccer career was over.
“I had doctors telling me I’d never be the player I was,” she said. “But I surrounded myself with positive people, and I refused to give up, I refused to be a victim.”
Sure enough, she was able to recover from a serious knee and shoulder injuries and play for Team Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
“I’ve only ever seen my father cry twice,” says Leblanc. “The first was when we left Dominica. The second was when I saw him in the stands at the Olympics in 2008.”
The match against Brazil is set for Gillette Stadium, just south of Boston, where LeBlanc spent three years playing professional soccer with the Boston Breakers of the now defunct Women’s United Soccer Association.
LeBlanc’s mother, longtime local teacher Winsome LeBlanc, is traveling to Boston to witness the historic occasion.
“It’s a soccer mom’s dream come true,” says Winsome.
Despite now living in LA, and spending most of her time on the road, Leblanc says she still considers Maple Ridge her home.
“That’s were I first kicked a soccer ball,” she says. “That’s where my oldest friends and family are.”
Her strong local roots were evident earlier this year when she and Team Canada beat Mexico at B.C. Place in Vancouver to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“There were old coaches there, friends from high school, people I hadn’t seen in 10, 12 years,” she says.
And of course, her parents, cheering her on as always.
“Every day they tell me they’re proud of me,” she says.
As historic as her milestone is, however, LeBlanc says she has loftier goals. With the 2012 Summer Olympics looming, Team Canada is hoping to do something no other Canadian soccer team ever done before.
“This year, we want to medal in London,” says LeBlanc. “Right now, that’s the only thing I’m focussed on.”