Long before Karina LeBlanc and her teammates captured the nation’s heart with it triumphant performance on one of football’s most hallowed grounds, the Maple Ridge goalkeeper spent countless hours honing her skills on the pitch at Merkley Park.
Now there is a grassroots movement to have that field named after LeBlanc.
Steve Lamothe, a Maple Ridge resident whose own son Takoda plays soccer in the region, has put forth a request to the District of Maple Ridge to rename the field in LeBlanc’s honour.
“When you think about the great athletes that have come from this area that we have already honoured, Karina seems like another perfect fit,” said Lamothe, citing honours bestowed to NHLers Cam Neely and Brendan Morrison, as well as to former Montreal Expo Larry Walker and Indy car driver Greg Moore.
“The Canadian women’s team helped capture the imagination of the nation and for them to win a bronze after the U.S. game is awe-inspiring.”
Lamothe said he and his son were glued to the set while the game was being played, Takoda clad in his autographed jersey he picked up at the Olympic qualifier last year.
“We were absolutely ecstatic.”
For LeBlanc, the idea of naming the field where she spent so much of her youth training is overwhelming. The bronze medal winner said she recalled being cut after her first tryout with Team B.C. and rededicated herself to become a better player with the help of her father and brother.
“I have a lot of memories at that park. I can still remember being so heartbroken and down and then being given the opportunity to prove I could get back up. If it wasn’t for all the help and that field, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said LeBlanc.
For now, Maple’s Ridge’s most revered athlete is catching up on sleep and gladly sharing her success with the community.
“As far as I am concerned, this medal is part of the community. I’m so grateful for all the support over the years.”
While the District of Maple Ridge is on break from regular council meetings until Aug. 28, communication’s director Fred Armstrong said Mayor Ernie Daykin and members of council have been made aware of the request and is sure it will be strongly considered.
As a soccer fan, Armstrong said he thinks it’s a great idea.
“When you look at someone like Karina, and the enthusiasm she brings to the sport, it’s hard not to be inspired,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong remembers when LeBlanc was bestowed with the Hometown Hero honour and how gracious she was all those years ago.
After meeting with her at a Rotary luncheon Tuesday, he said that infectious charm still radiates from LeBlanc.
“I think some people get it in their head that once these athletes leave their hometown and find success, they forget about where they come from,” said Armstrong. “But it couldn’t be further from the truth. They are just regular kids who lived out their dreams.”
While Armstrong said the idea of renaming the field after LeBlanc has merit, it is not an overnight process.
The park in question is owned in part by the local school district and a name change would need approval from all parties involved. He said the parks and recreation board has a rigorous process it follows before it names any new park.
Armstrong said while some may get frustrated with the process, the goal is to make sure everyone involved is fully informed before any decisions are made.
• Fans of LeBlanc can catch the soccer star with her bronze medal today at West Coast Mazda at 20000 Lougheed Highway in Pitt Meadows from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
• On Monday, Aug. 20, LeBlanc will be at Winners at 19800 Lougheed Highway in Pitt Meadows from 6 to 7:30 p.m.