“Believe in yourself.”
That’s just one of the inspirational messages Olympic soccer player Karina LeBlanc has for the youth of Maple Ridge.
The professional soccer player, who has participated in five FIFA World Cups and two Olympic Games, is encouraging Maple Ridge youth who are passionate about promoting youth sport to apply for the Karina LeBlanc Game Changer Award.
“Sports changed my life when other people saw greatness within me that I didn’t see myself,” says LeBlanc, who has been the Head of Women’s Football for CONCACAF and its 41 countries since 2018. “You don’t have to be perfect to be nominated for this award, because other people will see the greatness in you.”
The award is a legacy initiative of the Maple Ridge 2020 BC Summer Games, which was cancelled due to health concerns around COVID-19, and comes with a $1,000 prize for one local youth proven to have moved that community forward in sport or recreation. (Maple Ridge will instead host the Summer Games in 2024.)
LeBlanc was delighted when asked to be spokesperson of the award by Lisa Beare, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture.
“It’s such an honour to be in a position where people see me as a game changer,” says LeBlanc, a former Maple Ridge resident. “In my life I’ve had many game changers who’ve made such an impact on me. It’s an honour to be part of someone’s story and to uplift and encourage them.”
Tom Bowen, Vice President of the Maple Ridge 2020 BC Summer Games, describes LeBlanc as more than worthy of the honour of being named spokesperson for the Game Changer Award.
“I’ve seen Karina speak and she’s fantastic and so personable,” says Bowen. “And, she is so humble. After I heard her speak, I saw this long lineup of young girls waiting to meet her and she was so giving of her time.”
Bowen adds LeBlanc is all about giving back at the grassroots level.
“Karina has never forgotten where she came from.”
Which is why LeBlanc wants Maple Ridge youth involved in sport to apply for the Game Changer Award — and have the confidence to nominate themselves if necessary.
“It’s important for young people to dream big, work hard and surround themselves with the right people,” says LeBlanc. “Or, if you know an outstanding individual who has a bright future, nominate them.”