2022  i w d  h a b alanna mah womens para  e n main
© Connor Mah

Passing on her passion for para hockey

Just 22, Alanna Mah has been a member of Canada’s national women’s para hockey team for nine years, and she is eager to expose other young girls to the sport that has given her everything

Bernadette Larose
March 30, 2022

Young, fierce and determined, Alanna Mah’s path to Canada’s national women’s para hockey team was a direct one.

At just six months old, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Doctors found a tumour around her spinal cord. While she fought the cancer and won, her battle left her with an incomplete spinal injury that impairs the full use of her legs.

That had little effect on Mah’s athletic career, though; she played multiple sports growing up through the Paralympic Sports Association in her hometown of Edmonton. Having grown up watching hockey with her family, Mah seized the opportunity to try para hockey as soon as she could.

“I knew that para hockey existed,” Mah says. “But I didn't really know much about it. So, I just went out to one of their practices and they let me give it a go and [I] fell in love with it.”

From there, Mah trained and practiced with the co-ed Edmonton Impact of the Edmonton Sled Hockey Club. When she reached eligibility at age 14, she attended an open tryout for the national team and made it.

“When I joined para hockey at nine [years old], I was the only girl on my team. I didn't really know of any girls playing in the province or in Canada. So, when I made the women's national team at 14, that was my first exposure to even knowing that there was a women's team.”

Eight years later, Mah and her national team teammates want to change that narrative. Through grants from the Hockey Canada Foundation, the women’s team runs a grassroots development program, hosting ’try-it‘ events for young girls across Canada in conjunction with its national training camps.

“I think it's super important to have girls see that there's an opportunity to play in an all-female environment, playing this game,” explains Mah. “Immersing them in that environment with us national players as mentors and coaches showing them, ‘This is where you can go. We're here, we exist.’ It gives them someone to look up to.”

While the 22-year-old forward’s passion is in growing the women’s game, Mah relishes the opportunity to compete on the co-ed side, playing for Team Alberta—the four-time national para hockey champions—alongside a few members of Canada’s National Para Hockey Team, Cody Dolan and Adam Kingsmill.

“I love the physical side of it,” Mah says of playing full-contact para hockey at the highest level. “It's one of my favorite parts of playing the game. I am on the smaller side, so sometimes it can be a little scary, but they don't treat me any differently out there. Everyone’s on the same playing field and they don't really even see that I'm a girl, they just see me as a player.”

With the Impact (with whom she both coaches and plays) and Team Alberta, Mah trains daily and is on the ice twice a week, balancing para hockey with full-time kinesiology studies at the University of Edmonton.

Her drive does not go unnoticed, with Derek Whitson, an assistant with the women’s national team and former Paralympian, noting, “I've been a teammate of hers through Team Alberta, and I've also been her coach for eight years and it is amazing [to see] the discipline and the work that she's been able to put in over two years to really step her game up.

Through a rebuilding year, she is definitely one of the leaders of her team now and she really is stepping up to the task. She's got this fun personality that isn't your typical leadership, but it really brings out the best in her and the team, because she keeps it light and keeps it fun for everybody.”

Whitson and head coach Tara Chisholm are preparing for an invitational national selection camp in Yellowknife, N.W.T., on April 24-May 1 before regional camps through June and July and finally a national team camp in Calgary, July 27-31, 2022.

The team is prepping for the 2022 Women's World Challenge, tentatively slated for the fall.

“It's exciting for our women, because this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, world events that they've actually been able to pursue.” says Whitson. “This is a big opportunity to showcase what our women have been training for all these years and [representing] Canada, we have expectations with a gold standard to be on top at the end.”

While para hockey is a co-ed sport, just three women have ever competed at the Paralympic level, including China’s Yu Jing, who competed earlier this month at the 2022 Games. The goal for Mah and Women’s Para Hockey of Canada – the group that oversees the development of the women’s game across the country – is to see the inclusion of women’s para hockey in the Paralympics, but a lack of equitable international competition is a major barrier in that push.

While Whitson and Chisholm have dedicated their efforts to international development, awareness and participation domestically is still a priority for Mah and her national teammates.

It’s a labour of love for Mah, whose life has been shaped by the game.

“The environment and the people, you can't beat it. It’s just like a family.

“I think in any kind of sport, most people would feel that way, but especially being a female with a disability in sport, I think finding that group of people where you can really just relate to, and everyone understands you and gets you is just something that is unmatched.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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