Airdrie hockey player Farah Walker is enjoying some Olympic wisdom these days.
Until mid-April, the 15-year-old goaltender is participating in Scotiabank’s inaugural Scotia Rising Teammates program. The program has paired 21 high-performance female hockey players from across the country with members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).
For four weeks, the teenaged players will receive advice and training from their respective mentor.
“Research shows that by age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys,” stated a Scotiabank press release about the launch of the program. “One of the many barriers contributing to this decrease in participation is the lack of female role models and mentors. While female coaches keep girls engaged, only 27 per cent of youth coaches are women.”
Some of the PWHPA players involved in the program include Team Canada members Natalie Spooner, Brigette Lacquette, Sarah Nurse and Blayre Turnbull.
According to the press release, each of the 21 Scotia Rising Teammates will receive a four-week mentorship program with their PWHPA player, four individual mentorship sessions, four group sessions, a resource handbook, an individual participant package and a $1,000 donation to the mentee’s hockey team.
Walker, who plays for the Edge School’s U18 female prep team, has been paired with Team Canada goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, who represented Canada at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship and the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Walker said she’s been enjoying the opportunity to pick Desbiens' brain and learn from her hockey experience.
“It's an insane opportunity,” she said. “Just being able to see her game and see how she's been able to develop, even with this COVID process, and how I can do little things in my day-to-day life that can really help me and get me in that mindset for Team Canada.”
Desbiens said she already knew after her first 30-minute video chat with Walker that the two goalies have a lot in common.
“Scotiabank has done an amazing job with this program to bring some of the best players in Canada together and help lead them toward a path – hopefully – toward elite hockey or just life in general,” she said. “It’s definitely been fun.”
The Team Canada player added what she's realized in her participation in the Rising Teammates program is how the mentees have questions that most people in their day-to-day lives would not be able to answer.
“For them to be able to ask us questions about recruitment, university, being a leader and off-ice things – they have a lot of questions and sometimes they don’t know the right person to ask,” she said. “I think it’s been valuable for them so far and I’m sure the program will run again in the future.”
In taking part in the program, Walker said her main objective is to learn more about what it takes to advance to the Team Canada level. She said her goal in the coming years is to make it to Canada's U18 team, as well as secure a hockey scholarship to a university.
“I want to make it to Team Canada and play for them,” she said. “I want to get that exposure to universities, because at the end of the day, I do need to get an education. Getting a scholarship and getting my name out there would be a great opportunity.”
To help improve her prospects of obtaining those goals, Walker enrolled in the Edge School in 2019. The Springbank-based private school is catered to elite-level athletes in multiple sports and offers the student-athletes the opportunity to pursue their sporting development and commitments alongside their studies.
While her Edge U18 team was only able to play a few games this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Walker said the Edge School is still the ideal environment to prepare her for post-secondary hockey, as the school replicates the environment and schedule university student-athletes experience.
“They prepare you as an athletic student and keep you in a space where your academics are just as important as your athletics,” she said. “They're really preparing me to be the best possible person I can be. My character development has escalated so much in the years since I've been with them, so I feel it's preparing me, not only for university but real life, too.”
Prior to joining the Edge School, Walker played for the Airdrie bantam (U15) AA boys’ Lightning. She also represented Airdrie on home ice at the 2020 Alberta Winter Games, helping Zone 3 to a silver medal.