‘The third team on the field’

Ca­role Anne Ché­nard sup­ported by fel­low soccer refs after can­cer diagnosis

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - KAYLA DOU­GLAS

It was just two days be­fore Ot­tawa ref­eree Carol Anne Ché­nard, a na­tive of Sum­mer­side, was set to fly to France for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

She had un­der­gone the re­quired three-and-a-half years of rig­or­ous train­ing and prepa­ra­tion for se­lected FIFA ref­er­ees. Ev­ery­thing was set­tled at her job at Health Canada for her to take the time off. Most of her be­long­ings were packed; just a few smaller items were left to be crammed into her bags.

They never made it into her suit­case.

Ché­nard, one of Canada’s most ex­pe­ri­enced fe­male ref­er­ees, was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer at the end of May and would be un­able to par­tic­i­pate in this year’s Women’s World Cup.

“Un­for­tu­nately it re­ally was last minute … I didn’t have a lot of time to digest it, I guess, be­cause it was two days away from leav­ing for the World Cup,” she said with a laugh. “It ob­vi­ously cre­ates a lot of anx­i­ety … I’m hu­man like ev­ery­one else, so I was scared.”

After speak­ing to her fam­ily and doc­tors, she de­cided to sit this World Cup out.

“Ob­vi­ously I’m dis­ap­pointed that I can’t be there, but health is the most im­por­tant thing we have,” she said. “With­out my health, I’ll never get back on the field again.”

With an even­tual re­turn to the pitch in mind, she fo­cused on start­ing the heal­ing process as soon as pos­si­ble. Luck­ily, her can­cer was de­tected early, so it’s treat­able. She had her first round of chemo­ther­apy on Fri­day, which is a rou­tine that will con­tinue into the sum­mer.

“I feel good, a lit­tle bit sleepy, but other than that the side ef­fects have been quite mild for my first treat­ment, so I think that’s pretty pos­i­tive” she said.

Though Ché­nard says she made the right choice, hav­ing to stay be­hind while her col­leagues are in France is tough.

“They’re do­ing so well … We worked so hard to­gether for the last three-and-a-half years and you ex­pect to be spend­ing time with them … I was ob­vi­ously dev­as­tated to not be able to go.

“Ev­ery in­ter­na­tional game is re­ally ex­cit­ing, but the World Cup is the pin­na­cle, whether you’re an athlete, a coach, a ref­eree or vol­un­teer. It’s the cul­mi­na­tion of all the hard work we’ve done over the past few years,” she said.

Ché­nard con­sid­ers her­self lucky to have been able to call matches for the 2011- and 2015-Women’s World Cups. In 2015, it was held in Canada. The first game she ref­er­eed was held in Ot­tawa, where she lives.

“Be­fore the game as they’re show­ing the pic­tures on the big screen, when the ref­eree’s pic­ture comes up, there’s usu­ally not too much ex­cite­ment in the sta­dium, but for that one I could hear some cheer­ing,” she said.

For­tu­nately, that ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t have to be her last at a FIFA World Cup.

FIFA an­nounced in 2014 it was abol­ish­ing the age limit for ref­er­ees at in­ter­na­tional events. The limit was 45, and be­cause World Cups take place ev­ery four years, the one in France would have been 42-year-old Ché­nard’s last.

How­ever, like al­ways, she isn’t think­ing too much about the fu­ture.

“Even when you’re healthy, as a ref­eree you can’t look too far ahead. You’re only as best as the last game you ref­er­eed, so you have to show them … ev­ery sin­gle game, that you de­serve to be there,” she said. “But I think, at the age I am now, I’m tak­ing it year by year.”

And just be­cause Ché­nard can’t be in France in per­son doesn’t mean her fel­low ref­er­ees aren’t giv­ing her a front-row view of all the FIFA ex­cite­ment.

“(We call) the ref­er­ee­ing team … the third team on the field,” she said. “The ref­eree fam­ily is strong. I’ve heard from so many peo­ple from around the world, all over Canada, all lev­els of ref­er­ee­ing.”

“(They’re) send­ing me videos and I’m get­ting up­dates. I re­ally miss them, I wish I was there to sup­port them, but I’m do­ing my best from far away watch­ing on TV,” she said.

CANADA SOCCER

Sum­mer­side na­tive Carol Anne Ché­nard is one of the best fe­male ref­er­ees in soccer.

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