Many of the participants realize being part of an amazing program such as HEROS is a chance to do what they never thought possible, an opportunity that propels them forward to achieve their dreams. Ashley Smith, a Vancouver HERO and now HEROS volunteer and post-secondary student, knows first-hand the important role HEROS plays in her community.
Ashley began playing hockey at the age of nine. Before starting hockey at that age, Ashley remembers she’d always wanted to play, but her parents couldn’t afford it and they believed the sport was too dangerous.
Some children from Ashley’s elementary school, who played for the Vancouver Angels at the time, encouraged her to visit the “Come Try Hockey” event with her parents and they agreed to go.
“The next day my parents signed me up for hockey and we went out and bought all second-hand gear. I spent one year as a player and was able to try playing goalie a few times that season. I fell in love with goaltending mostly because I didn’t have to skate as much as the players and it felt really special because it was something different that I got to learn. My second season I switched to goaltending full time and I have been a goalie for hockey and ringette since then even representing B.C. at nationals in ringette.”
Ashley attended the hockey academy at her high school, and in grade nine her teacher told her about a volunteer opportunity with HEROS. She attended a session one Tuesday and has stuck with the program since.
“I learned more of what it [HEROS] was about and it was like helping under-resourced youth get on the ice… I just remember always wanting to play hockey when I was a kid and these kids not having the opportunity, but this program gives them the opportunity to experience playing hockey and having fun on the ice…that’s what made me stick with HEROS.”
While pursuing her education, Ashley moved from Vancouver to Edmonton after receiving a one-year scholarship to attend the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. She continued her connection with HEROS by joining with the Edmonton SuperHEROS chapter of the HEROS program.
The SuperHEROS chapter is dedicated to providing an accessible and enriching hockey program for children with physical and cognitive challenges to ensure everyone has a chance to get in on the game of hockey. SuperHEROS currently operates four programs (three in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan) and is excited to be introducing new teams in Calgary, Blackfalds (Central Alberta) and the Lower Mainland, British Columbia in Fall 2021 (Stay tuned for more information!)
For Ashley, who is now pursuing a criminal justice degree at Douglas College, there aren’t enough words to describe the feeling of being a part of such a positive organization. To truly get the feel of the HEROS program, she explains, “you have to come to HEROS to see what it’s about. HEROS will always go the extra mile for each and every single one of the participants in their programs across the country.”
A recent experience with a young player who is autistic and non-verbal stands out for Ashley. The player would get anxious when separated from his father during practice. Ashley decided to step up and try to figure out a way to make SuperHEROS an enjoyable experience for that player. In doing so, she displayed responsibility, respect, and a sense of community.
“I remember just standing by the bench for 10 minutes talking to his dad about what I could do to help [him] have a better experience at HEROS.”
“At first, I couldn’t get him to go more than ten feet away from his dad and then by a couple ice times later I had the young hockey player skating around the ice rink,” said Ashley. “The improvement that SuperHEROS made was just phenomenal, it was truly amazing. It wasn’t just me who worked their magic, there is so many other volunteers there that was just spectacular and they’re just amazing.”
Ashley displays integrity by giving back to the game and helping the community around her, which in some way, mirrors the way HEROS also goes above and beyond for its players and volunteers.
One of the ways is helping with post-secondary and vocational costs through HEROS bursaries named after Willie O’Ree, HHF and in memory of Toronto HERO alumnus Traveal Jackson, which can be a huge barrier for those wanting to pursue post-secondary.
Students like Ashley and numerous others, have received bursaries and scholarships to help them pay for items such as tuition and books. This season, HEROS eclipsed $250,000 in post-secondary financial assistance since HEROS inception
“Being involved with HEROS is like being a part of a big family across Canada. That’s what makes me the most excited to be a HERO, you’re not alone. No matter where you go in Canada, there will always be someone that you can reach out to. Even if you’re not part of HEROS for 10 years, you’ll still be able to go back because once a HERO, always a HERO.”