“I’m well aware that I am the only female player. I get some attention from it from spectators or maybe people on the staff from other teams. For me, I’m so used to it that I don’t see any problems with it. I would say it’s a privilege actually because we’re just a big group of friends playing together.”
People have often questioned Lena Schroeder’s choice in playing Para ice hockey, and for understandable reasons.
In such a male-dominated sport, why not focus on another one that would give her a better opportunity to compete at a high level, some would suggest. But whether it was a male or female sport, high-level or for recreation, Para ice hockey had stolen Schroeder’s heart when she was young. And sticking with her first love paid off.
In late January, Schroeder got the official nod that she would be part of Norway’s national team for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, which begin on 9 March. With the other seven teams yet to announce their rosters for PyeongChang 2018, Schroeder is currently set to be only the second female to compete in Para ice hockey at a Paralympic Winter Games.
In between travelling between Japan and Italy for competitions, Schroeder has not been able to take in the news.
“Yes and no,” she said. “The first days it was just like, ‘OK cool, that’s what I was going to do, and that was the plan.’ But it hasn’t really dawned on me yet. I think when we start to get ready, and get used to the time zone difference, maybe then it will dawn on me.
“Now I can focus on being in my best shape before the Championships [Paralympics] instead of being nervous about the roster or if I’m even going to be there,” she said. “So yeah, [I’m] both relieved and very happy and proud that I managed to do it.”
Para ice hockey teams can bring up to 17 players to the Games, but that number increases to 18 if their squad includes a female.
The last female to compete at a Paralympic Winter Games in the sport was Brit Mjaasund Oejen. She was part of the Norwegian team that captured silver at Lillehammer 1994, where Para ice hockey made its Paralympic debut.
“Lena brings a great combination of discipline, focus, energy and humour to the team,” Norwegian head coach Espen Hegde said. “We are both happy and proud to have Lena on our team. The fact that she has been picked among our top 16 players indicates that she would have part of the roster regardless of the extra female-spot.”
Schroeder is used to being the only female on the team. Training with the Oslo club team and national team, as well as attending team gatherings and events, for years has helped not only her but her teammates get accustomed to each other.
“I’m well aware that I am the only female player. I get some attention from it from spectators or maybe people on the staff from other teams. For me, I’m so used to it that I don’t see any problems with it,” she said. “I would say it’s a privilege actually because we’re just a big group of friends playing together.”
Schroder’s first contact with Para ice hockey was in 2008, when a team where she was living in Moss, about an hour away from Oslo, and fell in love with the sport because of its complexity with tactics, techniques and playing on a team.
“I didn’t have any other experience with Para sports other than sit-skiing,” she said. “So I just got a message from someone I knew that they were starting a team where I lived. And I thought hey I should give this a chance because it’s probably the only opportunity I have to do Para sports in my area.”
Schroeder did not get to play on the team that competed at the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships A-Pool, where Norway lost to South Korea in the bronze medal game.
PyeongChang 2018 would be her first major competition, and one where the third, fourth and fifth seeds - South Korea, Norway and Italy respectively – have an equal shot at medalling.
“First of all I just want to do what I know I can do and play a good game and focus on things that I know are really important when I’m on the ice,” she said. “I hope that I can participate and play good defense, and if I get an offensive chances that I want to (take advantage of that).”
In the long run, she hopes there will one day be a women’s hockey team at the Paralympics, though she is aware it is still in a developing stage. She has participated in an all-women’s European team that plays against other national teams from Canada and the USA.
“It’s important that people see that even if it’s male dominated, you can play as a girl,” Schroeder said. “I do hope that people feel they can go to a male team or a team with only male players and actually start playing. You shouldn’t stop playing Para ice hockey just because you’re a female player.”
The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games take place from 9-18 March. Tickets can be purchased here.