If you asked me at ten years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said this: “I want to play hockey for Team Canada at the Olympics”. That was my dream.

I started skating when I was 3 years old. I would attempt to chase my older sister around the pond as I held on tightly to my tipped-over chair – the only thing keeping me from falling down every 3 seconds. As soon as I could manage to skate on my own, the chair was replaced with a hockey stick. In that moment, I began to fall in love with hockey.

Andrea & Hayley Wickenheiser September 2006 (2)When I was ten years old, I met Hayley Wickenheiser during a Team Canada training camp in my hometown. I looked up at her and I saw the Olympic gold medal hanging around her neck. It was then that I knew I wanted to be just like Hayley. It was then that my dream to play in the Olympics was more clear than ever before. It was then that I was truly in love with the game of hockey.

Six years later, I turned 16. The age that I realized I wasn’t nearly good enough to play in the Olympics. The age when I realized that I had no idea how to get to that point of being good enough. I didn’t know where to begin. All I had was my ice time 3x a week with my high school hockey team in my small town. How was I going to get noticed? These questions began to repeat inside my head until I realized the dismal truth. And that was when my dream began to die.

Fast forward to my first year in university. While trying to decide whether or not to try out for the hockey team, I was faced with a decision: to not play hockey and finish university in 4 years or to play hockey and have to stay for 5 years. While struggling with this decision, I finally realized that if I decided to play hockey, there would be nothing afterward. I would play my 5 years and be done with my hockey career. So I made the decision to focus on my future career and leave hockey to be my past time.

Don’t get me wrong – this was not an easy decision nor an easy realization to come to. I went from playing competitively all my life to playing once a week at the university intramurals. But I was being realistic about my future, and I had to put my focus on my education in order to get a good career. At this time, there were no outlets for women’s hockey unless you were the best of the best.

Today, I have hope for the future of women’s hockey. 2017 marks the tenth season of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), the first Canadian Professional Hockey League for female players. With a league of currently 5 teams that feature multiple gold medal winning Olympians, they continue to expand in terms of talent and publicity.

Hayley Wickenheiser. Marie-Philip Poulin. Caroline Ouellette. These Olympic and CWHL athletes are becoming household names within hockey families and fans. Their talent and athleticism are being recognized by major sports media outlets. Over the past year, the CWHL has received game broadcasts via Sportsnet. For a regular season game between the Toronto Furies and Les Canadiennes de Montreal, the Sportsnet broadcast brought in an average of 136,400 viewers. The All-Star game at the Air Canada Centre brought in over 8,o00 spectators.

These numbers show that there are fans of the CWHL. There are people willing to watch professional women’s hockey. So what does this mean for the next generation of female hockey players?

The CWHL is looking toward #TheNextTen, and in doing so, have introduced the 25 for 10 Campaign. With ten years of achievements and expansion (in terms of publicity and sponsors) under their belt, #TheNextTen includes looking forward to the possibilities for growth of the league in the next ten years. Let’s hope this includes the league’s athletes getting paid a sustainable amount to make a living from playing hockey.

I hope the next generation of young female hockey players won’t have to give up on their dream. I still believe that if I saw a future in hockey when I was 16, I would have pushed myself harder to get better. Instead, I let my dream go and went on to create new goals and have new dreams.

I may have given up on my dream at 16, but perhaps my future daughter will not have to give up on hers. I look forward to hearing her goals and ambitions with the realization that they are achievable. I look forward to a world where your gender does not determine your abilities or influence your dreams. A couple decades from now, my future daughter could be a professional hockey player.