British Columbia

'This is my field of dreams.' Karina LeBlanc Field unveiled in Maple Ridge

Karina LeBlanc calls it her field of dreams: the place where she transformed from a shy and bullied girl into a confident young athlete.

Tears flow as retired national team goalkeeper recounts how playing soccer changed her life

The field at Merkley Park in Maple Ridge is being renamed Karina LeBlanc Field in honour of the former Canadian soccer star. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

Karina LeBlanc calls it her field of dreams: the place where she transformed from a shy and bullied girl into a confident young athlete.

And now that the patch of soccer grass near her childhood home is being renamed in her honour, she hopes Karina LeBlanc Field will have the same life-changing powers for generations of Maple Ridge children.

"This is incredible for me," she said, fighting back tears. "I was just this young girl who moved to Canada after my parents took a leap of faith."

'I was bullied; I was irrelevant'

"I was a shy kid who never spoke. I was bullied; I was irrelevant. Sport completely changed my life."

The retired Canadian soccer goalkeeper and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist spoke directly to a group of young players about how she went from being cut from the B.C. provincial team one year to making it the next, after committing to 15 extra minutes of training every day on the field. 

LeBlanc retired in 2015 after playing in five World Cups and two Olympic Games. 

She said becoming a role model to younger players is what she and her teammates have always aspired to. 

"It's not about me," she said. "When you win an Olympic medal it's about the team."

Canadian women's soccer team captain Christine Sinclair, left, and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc show off their bronze medals from the London Olympics. (The Canadian Press)

"Still, it's pretty cool to walk up and see your name. Like, wow!"

$2.5M in upgrades

Approximately $2.5 million will be spent upgrading the field at Merkley Park. 

Alongside Cam Neely Arena and Larry Walker Field, Karina LeBlanc Field becomes just the latest example of Maple Ridge recognizing its homegrown athletes in a major way.

She also joins an exclusive club: Canadian female athletes who have a sports field or arena named in their honour.

The not-so-long list includes the Cassie Campbell Arena in Brampton, the Crescent Point Wickenheiser Centre in Shaunavon, Sask., and the Karen Magnussen Arena in North Vancouver.