Karina LeBlanc used to cover Canada’s net. Now the former keeper is covering Canada’s whole soccer team – as a media analyst working the Olympics in Rio.
“It’s different being on this side of the camera, and not being an athlete,” said the recently retired 36-year-old, who appeared for Canada 110 times.
But she’s still got a foot in both camps – athletes and journalists.
There’s a Youtube video of her, called “KK CAM Karaoke,” in which LeBlanc has Melissa Tancredi, Christine Sinclair and other members of the women’s national soccer team doing carpool karaoke. They’re driving and belting out everything from Beyonce’s Single Ladies and crooner Eric Carmen’s All By Myself to the national anthem.
You won’t see CBC Olympic veteran Brian Williams keeping up with that.
“I was hired to be me, which is awesome,” said LeBlanc, a Maple Ridge secondary graduate. “I’m here enjoying the Olympics, and giving it a different twist.”
Away from the intense focus of competition, LeBlanc has time to talk about a new foundation she will start in her hometown Maple Ridge. She also has a chance to take in a huge variety of events, and to enjoy the Games in a way she never could as a player.
“When you’re competing, you stay in a bubble,” explained LeBlanc.
As a Team Canada keeper first in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and then in the London 2012 Games, she dedicated to the mental preparation, watching tape, staying focussed, and getting about 10 hours of sleep every night.
In Rio, she simply gets to take it all in. Media credentials get her into every Olympic venue, and LeBlanc is like a kid with a ride pass at Playland.
“I’m all over. I love track and field, and the medal for Canada in women’s rugby – that was exciting,” she said.
And of course the women’s soccer team has again had a great run. LeBlanc is not surprised that they have outplayed their ranking of 10th heading into the tournament. She said the team is a perfect blend up-and-coming new talent, combined with veterans who have been there before – people like Tancredi and Sinclair. Those are women who are “still my best friends in life,” she said.
As an interviewer who has been there, she hopes to bring different insights. She knows when a journalist’s question makes an athlete cringe, and how to get the best interview.
“The walls aren’t up with me,” she said. “I know how to talk with them. It’s like I’m just talking to my good friends.”
As much as she’s loving being part of the media at the Games, LeBlanc is not sure she will pursue sports journalism as a career.
“I have no idea what my future holds.”
That spiky hair, carpool-karaoke personality has won her friends in all kinds of places. LeBlanc has been made a mentor to future female leaders through FIFA’s Female Leadership Development Programme. She understands the power of sport, and what countries can accomplish when they encourage women to take part.
Leblanc has also worked with UNICEF. In 2015, she went back to Dominica, where she grew up before moving to Maple Ridge, to visit UNICEF projects and host a soccer clinic for kids. She is raising funds for the children of Dominica.
She is also a motivational speaker and travels all over the globe, and logged 70,000 miles in the air last year.
LeBlanc also has a coaching background, having served as an assistant at Rutgers University in New Jersey from 2005 to 2009, and with the Canadian under-15 national team as a goalkeeper coach. She loved it, but she doesn’t see coaching in her immediate future.
“I’ll use my voice. Right now there seems to be an interest in my voice. I’m just following the path that’s in front of me.”
She calls Vancouver’s Gastown district home now, but still made it to her hometown for Caribbean Fest this year, with her Jamaican-born mother.
On a local speaking engagement earlier this year, she talked about how her mom made her go to local businesses, asking if anyone would be willing to sponsor a high school athlete with lofty ambitions. Marv Jones Honda decided to step up.
“He wrote me a cheque that day, which was one of the coolest things that happened to me when I was 16,” she recalled.
Now LeBlanc wants to give back, and is in the process of setting up a foundation to help young female athletes in Maple Ridge.
“I want to let them know that if you dream big, big things are possible,” she said. “Everybody needs a helping hand at some point in life.”
The charity foundation is looking for business partners. More details about the new foundation will be announced later this year.
“I’m about our community,” said LeBlanc. “Our community helped me to be the woman I am today.”