Young Sylvan Lake hockey player says ‘challenges won’t define her’

Hailey McWhirter posed in a photo shoot to show girls can play hockey, do anything they want

Hailey poses for a photo while wearing a jersey from her favourite team, the Edmonton Oilers. Hailey says plans to one day play in the NHL for her favourite team. Photo Submitted

Girls are just as strong and capable as boys.

That is the message one young Sylvan Lake girls is presenting with a recent photo shoot.

Dressed up in blue and pink dresses, with full tulle skits and flower crowns, nine-year-old Hailey McWhirter is subverting the norm by also showcasing her love of hockey.

The typical “girly” items of clothing are offset by Hailey tying up her hockey skates, proudly showing off her stick or holding a sparkly tiara in hockey-gloved hands.

“I am a hockey player… I want everyone to know girls can play hockey too,” Hailey said.

Deanna Stefaniuk-McWhirter, Hailey’s mother, said the photo shoot was all about Hailey and she choose everything she wanted to wear as well as how she wanted to pose.

“Everything was her decision, and that was important because we wanted this to be about her, it was all Hailey,” Deanna said.

The idea for the photo shoot was even Hailey’s idea, one that when presented Deanna and her husband were immediately on board.

The idea came from a similar shoot of an athlete in the United States Hailey found while surfing the web one day.

The atom hockey player with the Sylvan Lake Minor Hockey Association said she liked the idea because it is sports related, while also showing her girly side.

“I want to show other girls they can do anything,” said Hailey, who added one of her dreams is to play in the NHL for her favourite team the Edmonton Oilers.

Hailey says she is grateful to everyone who has influenced her and helped her along the way. In particular she said her novice coach Brett Johnson has had a big impact on her.

“He has been very encouraging to me,” Hailey said, adding she wants to encourage others as well.

Johnson says he has been “blessed” to coach many young athletes and remembers each one, but knew Hailey was special.

“This young lady is one for who I was lucky enough to coach in her very first year in hockey. From the first time she stepped on the ice, you just knew that the ice was going to be her playground.

“She’s got a heart of gold and a ton of passion,” Johnson said.

Along with her coach, Hailey says her best friend, Mackenzie, has always been by her side and her other best friend Rylan Johnson sends her words of encouragement all the time.

Once she has finished her stint in the NHL, Hailey plans to become a doctor. Specifically she plans to become a brain surgeon and help find a cure for Alzheimer’s.

“It’s sad to watch people forget, I want to help people not forget,” she said.

“There are two things she always said she wanted, to play hockey and to be a doctor,” said Deanna.

Her journey to the NHL and to medical school became harder last year when she was diagnosed with transient tic disorder, a form of Tourettes.

Deanna said she noticed her mannerisms changed, and began shaking or moving her hand a certain way or rolling her eyes.

These symptoms became more and more prominent before she was taken into the emergency room and given an MRI.

“Her ticks come and go,” said Deanna. “They may last a few days or weeks and then be gone for months.”

Deanna says Hailey has been strong during this time, and hasn’t lost sight of her goals.

“She told me, ‘Don’t worry Mommy, I’m going to be ok.’”

A bright spot for both Hailey and Deanna was in speaking with doctors about the condition and what it could mean for Hailey in the future.

The doctor told Hailey he knew of other doctors with Tourettes, and it hasn’t stopped them from achieving their goals.

“It was really encouraging,” Hailey said about her conversation with the doctor, “I was encouraged that I wasn’t the only one with it.”

Hailey says she hopes her story and the photos show other people, other girls, that they can do anything.

“I don’t let my challenges define me.”


The photo shoot was Hailey’s idea, after she found a similar set of photos while searching the internet. She says she wanted to do the photos because she wants to show other girls they can do anything they want, including playing hockey. Photo by Jennifer Donnelly/Donnelly Photography

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