As a child, Rebecca Johnston dreamt of playing hockey for Team Canada. After years of training, she realized that dream – but in 2015, a back injury left her wondering if she would ever play again.
At the age of four, Johnston began playing hockey with her family. Her interest grew over time, so she joined a recreational team in Sudbury, Ont., which is where her journey to professional hockey began.
“I would say my inspiration for getting into hockey would be my dad and my siblings. I have five brothers and sisters and we all play hockey. So, it was instilled in us when we were born as a big part of our family, as we all love it. So, it’s something I wanted to do,” she says.
Johnston went to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where she studied communications while continuing to play hockey. During her time at university, she had to balance academics and athletics, which was a challenge at first.
“Being an athlete is tough; it takes up a lot of time, and so trying to balance the two and making sure that I’m getting everything done with schoolwork, but then also be able to focus when I’m training.”
University taught Johnston many life skills such as time management and personal growth, which allowed her to develop as an individual and on the ice as well.
“University taught me so much, especially about myself, like just prioritizing time, making goals and knowing what’s important and what is not,” says Johnston.
While playing for her university’s hockey team Johnston began to meet with scouts who identified her as a potential player for the Calgary Inferno, bringing her one step closer to making her dreams come true.
“I started playing some tournaments in Toronto, then the scouts for Hockey Canada have a franchise to be in and invited me to try out for under-22 development teams. I played for Team Ontario and then worked my way up.”
Johnston was selected second overall in the 2012 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) draft by the Inferno. Since then she has kept up with a strict daily routine. Keeping up with hockey training is essential during the season and the off-season.
“A typical week during the season would be wake up, eat breakfast, workout and then skate during the morning or evening.”
Following a healthy diet, working-out and skating is extremely important, and an injury can often take away that strict routine which can be hard to get back into. This is why injuries can cause major setbacks for athletes like Johnston.
“I’ve gone through two injuries where I had missed quite a bit of time. The first one I had some back and hip issues in 2015 so that I was out for three-quarters of the season. Injury is probably one of the hardest things to overcome as an athlete and the toughest on your mental game.”
In 2015, while playing for the national team, Johnston was unsure if she would be able to play due to her hip and back injury. At the start of the season in 2015-16, Johnston was forced to the sidelines due to her injury, after having dominated the previous season with the Inferno, scoring 17 goals and setting records.
“I came back to play just before playoffs. So that was challenging.”
Johnston did not let her injury distract her from her goals. She worked hard to get back on the ice as soon as possible. In the following season, Johnston helped the Inferno win their first-ever Clarkson Cup championship.
The coach for the National Women’s Hockey Team, Troy Ryan, was impressed by Johnston’s commitment to the team. Her commitment was shown when she worked hard to recover from her injury mentally and physically to get back to playing.
“I think a combination of her sort of determination, but also just her athleticism and her commitment to fitness. Those are the types of people that come back from those injuries. I think that has shown her level of commitment to both the program but also to her own individual development,” says Ryan.
Aside from Johnston’s athletic skills, Ryan admires the leadership-like qualities which she brings to the team. Another great quality is her resilience which allowed her to recover from her injury.
“It’s very impressive that she’s been able to come back from the injury to the level that she is [at],” Ryan says.
After recovering from her injury, Johnston had great success in the postseason. No one can doubt her skills, passion or motivation for hockey.
“I’d say for any aspiring athletes out there to just really achieve and overcome, and don’t let anyone say that you can’t do it. I think it is so important to have goals and just really try to achieve them. So, I think anything is possible. It’s just a matter of how much you want it and believe that you can do it.”