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The podium in sport is not just for medals, but for history

December 11, 2020   ·   0 Comments

If there’s something 2020 has taught us, it’s that sport is more than just a professional game that athletes make their millions from. It has inspired competitive athletes to write new chapters in the stories of their sport – and make some history in this new normal.

Kim Ng became the first female general manager in Major League Baseball for the Miami Marlins, writing her story in the annals of sport.

It’s a huge accomplishment. This year, many WNBA games were televised. Even Kim Davis, the NHL’s Executive VP of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, spoke of ending the racism in hockey this year.

But, looking at the NHL, no woman has even been a GM or Assistant GM before.

Aurora resident Michela Lio would like to be the first.

“I’ve always dreamed of being the first woman, whether a GM or Assistant GM (in the NHL),” she says. “It’s a huge stretch but it’s definitely something that I want to work as hard as I can for. But you know, there’s steps to get to that point.”

Lio officially accepted her Div.1 hockey scholarship to Massachusetts’ College of the Holy Cross on November 14.

She will be studying business at the school and looks to be involved in Sports Management. To get there she’ll do just about anything required of her, from bringing cups of coffee to the office and to even working for Toronto’s arch-nemesis, the Boston Bruins.

“Holy Cross has internship programs whether it be the Boston Bruins, or the AHL affiliate team. The girls on the hockey team have done it before, even if it is a six-month thing,” Lio said.

In her unique hockey journey, Lio was a late-bloomer. Growing up in an Italian household, she began playing soccer in the summer and basketball in the winter. She played rep in both sports before playing house league hockey when she was nine.

At that tender age, hockey was a co-ed sport and she was willing to play with the guys.

Lio comes from a sports family, and it was clear it’s who she was. It defined her everyday life.

She began as a defenceman for the Etobicoke Dolphins, playing house league for her first year before moving up to select.

She moved over to the North York Storm a few years later where she transitioned into a forward at the Peewee level and then moved over to the Toronto Aeros for Midget AA.

Her coach with the Storm, Dave Gwyn, with whom she had developed a special relationship, moved to the Durham West Jr. Lightning and she went with him to the Provincial Junior Women’s Hockey League.

She attributes much of her success to Gwyn and his coaching style that has developed her into the player that she is today, mentally and physically.

“I learned so well from him. He’s always there for me, he’s like a second dad to me. We’re extremely close,” Lio said.

Added Gwyn: “It became very obvious very early on she became what I like to call a ‘hockey player’ and what I mean by that is, she doesn’t just play the game. [She is] a constant student of the game. And I think, combined with the work she puts in, her being super fit and working on things like strength, are important,” Gwyn said.

“To me, that’s one of the things that makes her really unique. She is a student of the game and it’s going to help her tremendously as she moves forward.”

Lio has done it all to be in this position, a point in time where so many outlets have become open to her, even being a player. But that’s going to be difficult.

A friend of hers in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Canada’s professional level, said her salary was $5,000 a year. In comparison to the men, that’s peanuts, to put it bluntly.

But one day, with the hope of making a difference in the hockey community and an impact on the ice, Lio dreams of women playing the sport with a sustainable salary. Even if it isn’t the millions, as long as it is something to live off of, she’s good.

And with her dream to preach women’s hockey to young girls in Canada who want to play the sport just like the boys do, she hopes one day the women’s game becomes large enough for other girls to fulfill that dream.

Lio wants to be the gateway for many women seeking management roles. Coaching barriers and trainer barriers have been broken. It’s getting there.

Keep an eye out for her name for years to come. One day, she might be making headlines. And even if she isn’t the first one by then, she definitely won’t be the last.

By Robert Belardi



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