Campbell River girl pursuing hockey dream after being raised in Congo orphanage
The first time she saw Gina peering from a picture, Colleen was struck by the faraway look in her eyes.
“The loss, the hurt,” Colleen says, describing the image of the six-year-old wearing a red dress and staring into the camera.
“The seriousness of the person.”
Gina was living in an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo before Colleen and her husband adopted the girl and her younger sister.
“(Gina) would try to be a kid,” Colleen says of their first couple years in Canada.
“But you could see she lived a life we couldn’t understand.”
Colleen thought it might help to play dolls, but Gina was more interested in balls. That is, until she attended her first hockey game.
“She said, ‘Could I try this?’ And we’re like, ‘Sure. But you don’t like being cold,’” Colleen recalls. “Then she said, ‘But I think I’ll like this.’”
You can tell from the smile on her face in the video from her first lesson that Gina didn’t just like it, she loved it.
“You’re gliding around,” Gina remembers with a smile. “I thought, ‘That’s super cool!’”
At that first lesson, the then-eight-year-old noticed another girl racing around the rink and asked what she had to do to skate like her.
“I said, ‘You have to let go of the cone.’ And the next day she let go of the cone and took off,” Colleen smiles. “She learned to skate in a day!”
Three months after that, she started playing hockey, and by the end of the season, Gina had earned a spot on the local all-star team.
“It was so cool; I felt like an actual hockey player,” Gina says with a smile just as big as she had on her first local hockey card.
“It was a big turning point.”
Although she was often the only girl in the game, Gina was driven to become the best in the rink.
Over the next seven years, Gina played on multiple small-town teams, training just as hard off the ice as on.
“I think everybody needs to find something that makes their heart sing,” Colleen says. “For her, that’s hockey.”
Because instead of being defined by race, gender or a traumatic past, hockey is where Gina feels the freedom to just be.
“Honestly, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Gina says, beaming.
It’s a feeling that will no doubt increase now that the 15-year-old’s been scouted by (and earned a scholarship to) the Ontario Hockey Academy. It’s the next step in Gina realizing her dream: to play for Canada’s national women’s hockey team, before becoming a lawyer to help other kids with faraway looks find that there’s hope within.
“(I hope I can) inspire the young boys and girls who are growing up as minorities,” Gina says. “That anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”