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Jody Nouwen is learning new dance moves these days.
Not that she remembers what they’re called.
But that doesn’t matter since the Chestermere mom — just a few sleeps away from turning 50 — is having a lot of fun, both on and off the ice at the 2023 World Ringette Championships in Calgary.
“Absolutely … having fun is why we play the game,” said Nouwen, during Day 1 of the global ringette showcase at WinSport.
“My teammates love to do the dancing and singing as different styles of game prep, and they’re teaching me how to do some of the cool dances that maybe I wouldn’t normally be doing as a 49-year-old.
“It’s pretty awesome.”
The on-ice adventure is pretty cool, too.
Suiting up for Team USA, the Calgary product — who qualifies under the Star Spangled Banner because her grandfather was American — is by far the oldest player at the worlds. The next oldest competitor wearing red, white and blue is 34, while the rest are in their 20s or younger.
And knowing that brings on a big smile.
“What happened to me about two years ago, I separated my shoulder, and I thought I was done,” said Nouwen, who’s now in her 40th year competing in the sport and a veteran of two world championships playing under the American flag way back in 2000 and 2010. “I thought that was it for my playing career in any sport, and it devastated me. But the thought that I could still come back and play ringette was the reason that I did all the rehab and my physio, because I knew that I wasn’t done yet. And so I trained really, really hard. I trained hard at a gym in Chestermere — Fuel House.
“They helped me with my goals and got me ready for this.”
What ‘this’ is is a week-long event bringing in the best ringette teams from across the globe.
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At the top level are Under-21 junior squads representing Canada and Finland. Then there’s the President’s Pool for players of any age — including the near-quinquagenarian Nouwen — on teams repping the USA, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
There’s also a U18 division, which is an international development festival of players from all five nations coming together to play in mixed, country-v-country and Canadian-v-Canadian formats, and Ringette Canada’s U17 ‘La Relève’ camp, a national high-performance development session consisting of close to 100 athletes, pathway coaches, officials and athlete mentors from across the nation.
Champions for both the President’s Pool and junior class will be crowned Saturday in respective noon and 7 p.m. finals at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre — and Nouwen and the Americans are trending towards becoming queens after scoring 11-3 and 12-1 wins over the Czechs and Swedes in respective Monday evening and Tuesday morning tilts.
“Honestly, it’s a lot of teamwork,” Nouwen said. “It’s a lot of ‘all of us.’ I think the really cool thing is the coaching staff that we have — it’s just really, really strong. And I’m learning something every day from them. And then I’m also able to bring my coaching and kind of help maybe some of the younger ones and be like, ‘Hey, could we try this? Or what would you like to do?’
“But honestly, I don’t want to be seen as a coach. I want to be seen as a teammate. And I just want to be there and support them.”
Although she’s loving the fact that these worlds are in Calgary — “One of the reasons I wanted to do this is to play in front of family and friends,” said the ringette veteran — Nouwen says she would’ve made the trek anywhere in the world to play in the worlds once more.
“Absolutely,” said Nouwen, whose two kids — daughters Tana, 16, and Mackenzie, 14 — and husband Doug — an event volunteer — offer big support of her adventure. “To play in a world championship … I mean … it’s the cream of the crop and the top of the top, and I’m really proud to be a part of that. I love the sport so much.
“So here’s my thing …” continued Nouwen. “When I was growing up, I’d say, ‘I play ringette. And they would say, ‘Well, what’s that?’ So I put as one of my goals that I don’t want people to say, ‘What is ringette?’ anymore. I want to help grow this sport so that everybody knows what that is. And by bringing USA and Czech and Sweden and other countries in, it will help to do that. So, yes, I would go play anywhere, because I’m all about promoting this great game. It’s brought me so many memories and so many great things. It’s something I’m passionate about.
“And I’m not only an athlete, but I’m a coach (of the Zone 2 Under-16 AAs, with daughter Mackenzie on the squad). And I want to be that strong female role model for those kids to show them that you don’t stop and you keep going. If you want to try it, you just put your mind to it and go for it.”
In this case, that means going for gold.
By the time she turns 50 on Nov. 8, she could well lay claim to a world title and have a medal hanging around her neck.
“A gold medal would make a great birthday present,” said Nouwen. “That’d be super exciting.”
Canada helped open up the ringette worlds with a U21 exhibition game against Finland on Monday evening. It was the Finns taking the first of four games during the championship 7-2. They rematch in another exhibition Wednesday night at Markin MacPhail Centre (7 p.m.) … In another President’s Pool game, Sweden edged the Czech Republic 7-6 on Day 1, and the two teams squared off again Tuesday night … Also in President’s Pool action, USA meets the Czech Republic again on Wednesday at Markin MacPhail Centre (2:40 p.m.).