Yes, She Can: Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan
Two pivotal players in Canada’s first Olympic gold in women’s soccer in Tokyo call Caledon East and Shelburne home.
It was a historic victory this past summer when the Canadian women’s soccer team prevailed over Sweden in the nail-biting final at the Tokyo Olympic Games. And Headwaters teammates Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan played pivotal roles in the triumph – the team’s first Olympic gold since women’s soccer became part of the Games in 1996.
Ashley, who attended Mayfield Secondary School and calls Caledon East her hometown, says that from the time she was five, kicking a soccer ball felt good – and made her happy. But it wasn’t until she watched Team Canada win its first Olympic bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics that she began to believe she, too, could represent her country.
And that she has done. Joining the women’s national team in 2013, she won Olympic bronze in Rio in 2016, and this year she surpassed 100 caps in a maple leaf jersey. (“Caps” refers to the number of international football matches a player has participated in.)
For Ashley, now 26, soccer has become a career. A fullback and midfielder for the elite Paris Saint-Germain team, she is considered one of the world’s best and fastest players. In the running for the BBC’s 2021 Woman Footballer of the Year, as well as the Ballon d’Or for woman player of the year, Ashley’s appetite for hard work and her refusal to give up is paying off. “It’s easy to look at the things you do well,” she says. “It’s harder to focus on what you need to improve. Your ego gets in the way. But that’s how you get better.”
A similar attitude has also vaulted Shelburne resident Kadeisha Buchanan onto the world soccer stage. Like Ashley, Kadeisha counts both a bronze from Rio and the gold from Tokyo among her many awards. Also 26, she believes her success is as much about her mental game as about her blistering speed. “I’m a good listener; I take advice from all coaches,” Kadeisha says. Her readiness to learn helps her stay calm under pressure. “I make good decisions on the field,” she says. Attributes like these have contributed to her amazing record of playing every minute of every game in Tokyo and to her being named Canada’s woman soccer player of the year three times.
A willingness to acknowledge and work on their weaknesses, and a pair of Olympic medals, aren’t all the teammates share. Both are defensive players who, as youngsters, played on the same Brampton team and cut their soccer teeth while attending West Virginia University. Both play in France’s Division 1, though Kadeisha plays for Olympique Lyonnaise, Paris Saint-Germain’s archrival. And both get goosebumps when they recall the Olympic moment when Team Canada scored its second – and winning – penalty kick in the gold medal match against Sweden.
Both women also talk about the confidence they felt in Tokyo that the national team would “change the colour of the medal” from bronze to shiny gold. “Because of strict Covid rules, we had to find new ways to connect as teammates,” says Ashley. Their efforts resulted in every player being “in the zone” while on the field. It was an intense tournament in which the team played six matches in two weeks. “Yet I watched my teammates run as hard in the sixth game as they had in the first one,” Ashley continues. She believes the team’s spirit set them apart. “It was our X factor.” (A heartfelt shout-out to teammate Deanne Rose from just outside Headwaters in Alliston. Deanne kicked one of the three winning Olympic penalty shots.)
Along the way, says Kadeisha, Team Canada finally broke a barrier that had been haunting it since the London games – in the semifinal they outscored Team USA. “What a perfect time to beat them,” she says.
Few soccer players will still be playing competitively at 38, as does Team Canada captain, soccer superstar and team mentor Christine Sinclair, so both Ashley and Kadeisha are thinking about the future. Kadeisha wants to coach at the university level. Much to the delight of Shelburne’s council, who presented her with the keys to the town in August, she has also offered to help mentor young players in the community when she is home from France.
Ashley has already started working with younger players. She formed Yes She Canada, an organization whose goal is “to inspire and empower girls, while providing mentorship and helping build positive self-esteem through sports.” For the fourth consecutive year, Yes She Canada is hosting an event in which role models such as Ashley coach girls between the ages of six and 16.
Both women want to hang on to the joy they see in these youngsters as they kick a soccer ball, perhaps for the first time. They acknowledge the pressure that has come with being world-class athletes. To help cope with that pressure, they strive for the attributes that have made Sinclair such an inspiring role model. Says Kadeisha, “Christine is very humble. She never brags.” This refreshing attitude no doubt contributes to their being heroes both on and off the soccer pitch.