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Hailing Hayley

Hayley Wickenheiser's is a giant and a trailblazer for her athletic accomplishments and her contributions to Canadian sport and culture. Her accomplishments are without precedent.

Hayley Wickenheiser's is a giant and a trailblazer for her athletic accomplishments and her contributions to Canadian sport and culture. Her accomplishments are without precedent.

She has only one living peer in hockey in this country and that fellow's last name is Gretzky. The careers of all the others, even Lafleur, Clarke, Roy, Lemieux, Brodeur and Crosby, simply do not measure up in a pound-for-pound comparison.

She's won four gold medals and one silver medal in women's hockey at the last five Olympic Winter Games, making her Canada's most decorated Olympian. She plans to try to make the 2018 Canadian team when she is 39 years old for an incredible sixth consecutive time. She's a member of the Order of Canada and has been inducted in Canada's Walk of Fame. She won a gold medal in hockey at the Canada Winter Games when she was just 12 years old, scoring the game-winning goal in the final. She was first named to Canada's national women's hockey team when she was 15 and, 21 years later, she's still on it. She has played professional hockey in a men's league in Europe, not as a marketing gimmick but as someone expected to score goals and assists, which she did. She came from a tiny town in Saskatchewan, learned her craft on a backyard rink and inspired thousands of girls and women to pass on ringette in favour of hockey.

Her story is one of passion, grit, devotion and excellence.

She was greeted with a standing ovation Tuesday morning at the UNBC Timberwolves legacy breakfast and when she was done talking, the full house at the Ramada were on their feet applauding once again.

She is not a gifted speaker (she admitted to the audience that she is leads by example, leaving the rah-rah speeches to others) but she has great and inspiring stories to tell and those stories were soaked up by the audience - partially made up of UNBC student athletes, as well as the members from various local girls hockey teams. Those players and their parents (who probably took the day off work and pulled their girls out of school for the event) quickly lined up afterward for photo and autographs with Wickenheiser.

That's the kind of devotion Wickenheiser commands from young female hockey players and their parents, so thankful are they to have such a powerful role model their daughters have embraced, when the alternatives are Miley Cyrus and Honey Boo Boo.

She deserves that same devotion from male athletes and male hockey players, too, but, if her Prince George appearance was any indication, she probably doesn't get it as much as she should. Sadly, there were no little boys lined up Tuesday to see one of Canada's best hockey players and best athletes ever.

For members of the Cariboo Cougars about to play for a B.C. Major Midget League title and for players with the Prince George Cougars, fighting for a playoff spot, Wickenheiser should be royalty.

Not only has she dominated women's hockey at the national and global level for the past 20 years, she's a two-sport threat. In 1994, when she was 15 and won her first world championship gold medal playing for the Canadian women's hockey team, she was also named all-Canadian shortstop and top batter at the Canadian Midget Softball Nationals. She went on to play for the Canadian women's softball team at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

At the top of her game, she adopted the infant son of her boyfriend and she talked about Noah, now a teenager, several times during Tuesday's event. In a 2012 interview with the Canadian Press, she described Noah as being the antidote for "the disease of me."

What she meant is that many elite athletes worry about themselves, their physical and mental condition, at the expense of all else and all others. Effective parenthood doesn't allow such narcissism.

Wickenheiser doesn't just get away from the rink to be a parent, she also helps others through various charity work to benefit young athletes, children and women with ovarian cancer.

She has been to Africa twice on goodwill missions to promote the power of sport as a way to build peace.

She's far more than just a role model for young girls. She's an inspiration for all athletes and all Canadians.

-- Managing editor Neil Godbout