Olympic gold medalist Laura Fortino grew up playing hockey in Hamilton. This week she returned from Ghana, where an icy winter is something you’d have to imagine.
'It was one of the most unique, amazing experiences that I've had in my life.' —Laura Fortino, player, Canada's national women's hockey team
Fortino and fellow Canadian Olympian, speed skater Denny Morrison, were Right to Play’s latest ambassadors, adding to the more than 300 other professional and Olympic athletes affiliated with the organization.
Fortino's no stranger to superlative experiences. But her week in Ghana was special, she said. It prompted her to reflect on all of the opportunities she's had growing up in Canada, she said.
"It was one of the most unique, amazing experiences that I've had in my life, besides the Olympics," she said.
Travelling as ambassadors for winter sport required an extra layer of translation, Fortino said.
"We had to demonstrate (our sports) through our actions – shooting a puck, showing a stride," she said.
Fortino went with a group from Right to Play, a Toronto-based organization that brings sports and games to more than 20 countries.
Every day for about a week, Fortino and Morrison visited the organization's various sites to coach kids in games like kickball-baseball or a running drill that required each child to pick up and throw away a piece of garbage.
Then, they'd gather up for a session to talk about what real-life skill or lesson each game had taught — teamwork, sanitation or health, for example.
One day, at a facility housing for abused and troubled kids, Fortino learned many of the kids there had come in distrustful and "terrified" of each other. But as they played together, she saw they'd begun to let down their guard.
"After that I just discussed teamwork and trusting," she said. "It’s OK to believe in your teammates."