'I usually just tell myself I am unstoppable.' Natalie Spooner on inspiring young female athletes
‘It is important to see female role models that are strong and powerful. It’s okay to have big muscles.’
Tough, graceful and splat! These are a few words that come to mind for Natalie Spooner when asked about her first few weeks of training on Battle of the Blades. Swapping her hockey skates for figure skates and getting teamed up with partner Andrew Poje has been nothing short of eventful!
We spoke to Natalie about the current state of women's hockey in Canada, Fast and Female (the charity she is skating to support on Blades), and on being an accessible role model for aspiring young female hockey players.
What has surprised you so far in figure skating for Battle of the Blades?
I kinda pictured that I would be dancing on the ice but there are more things to remember than I thought! Obviously, figure skating girls are half my size. So I thought it was really cool on the first day when I was able to be lifted up and I thought, 'Wow this is really happening! I am being lifted and I am ice skating!'
Body image has an impact on the way female athletes are perceived across sports. What are some differences you see between being a woman in figure skating vs. in hockey?
Hockey is so different, we wear equipment so you can't tell what our bodies look like. All you can see are our faces. People might comment about my makeup but in figure skating, the focus is much more on how you look, how graceful you look. It doesn't matter in hockey how you got the job done as long as you do the job. You can look as ugly as you want doing it, but if you are going to go score or backcheck or make good saves it doesn't matter how you look.
Coming to figure skating is definitely a big change but I think if girls see someone like me who is 5'10 and 180 pounds figure skating, there is hope for anyone to be able to figure skate. It is important to see female role models that are strong and powerful and that it's okay to have big muscles. It is not something to shy away and hide. It's okay to be strong.
The charity you're competing for is called Fast and Female. It's geared towards providing opportunities for young women to try different sports across North America and meet elite athletes like you. What work are you doing to make women's hockey stronger in Canada?
I think there are a lot of different ways. I have my hockey school in August every year so I try to get as many young girls out there as I can — I think it is so important to get in front of these young women. Getting to actually meet these role models is important. As is working towards getting a professional league and making sure that women's hockey stays on the right track.
Just because we don't have a professional league right now shouldn't mean that women's hockey is taking a step back and girls are dropping out. That's the last thing we want to have happen. We want to make sure that they have enough space — to pave something for them when they get older and follow in our footsteps. We've had a lot of amazing women to look up to to get to this point.
What's something you struggled with as an athlete that you wished you received more guidance on?
Confidence and being secure with myself on the ice. A big turning point for me was going into the 2014 Olympics. I was a nervous wreck. It was my first Olympics and I was fortunate enough to be on a team with Hayley Wickenheiser who was a vet then and had so much experience. I remember her looking at me and she said, 'Spooner, don't worry about what anyone else thinks of you just go out there and play your game.' That was probably one of the biggest moments.
If my teammate believes in me then why am I not believing in myself?
I had a shift: It's not what other people think. If my teammate believes in me then why am I not believing in myself? I think you can do that for someone else, too, and hopefully I can try and help these younger girls coming up in the Canada program just to feel that confidence, because their play as a kid can take off and they can become such great players.
I know that Hayley Wickenheiser was a big part of helping me get to become the player I am now.
Do you work with keywords when you are on the ice for hockey?
I usually just tell myself I am unstoppable. I feel like in figure skating I have a lot more keywords. Every single move I feel like my partner is saying, 'and cross and cut and beach ball.'
We have a lot of keywords. Beach ball for when your arms are above your head. You can't deflate your beach ball, it's got to be nice and round. We have a laser pointer, meaning chest is up, shoulders down, reach with your middle fingers, and point your toes. Then for the rollup I call it the fruit roll-up. For twizzles I call them Twizzlers. For swing rolls I call them spring rolls, so everything has just become food.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
As a member of the Battle of the Blades production team, Sara Yacobi-Harris is combining her experience as a former competitive figure skater with her current career in Unscripted Content at the CBC. She is a writer, documentarian and is currently completing a Master's degree in Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto.