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Helen Stoumbos will be enshrined in the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in April. (Photo courtesy Helen Stoumbos) Helen Stoumbos will be enshrined in the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in April. (Photo courtesy Helen Stoumbos)

Feature

Daughters and fathers

Helen Stoumbos credits dad for her success

Last Updated Thu., March 6, 2008

The one thing that immediately impresses you when speaking to Helen Stoumbos is her love of soccer.

And the love she has for her father.

Stoumbos will become a member of a very select group when she is officially inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in Toronto next month, joining only five other female players who have already received Canadian soccer's highest honour.

But Stoumbos, a stalwart with the Canadian women's team from 1993-98, insists she never even would have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career if not for her father, John.

A father's influence

"He was the one that got me started. He coached me every single day. As I've gotten older, I've looked back and realized just how much and how important the contribution he made. I wouldn't be here without him," Stoumbos told CBCSports.ca.

"It's funny, I was kind of surprised (about being nominated for induction) but at the same time happy for my dad, because he played a big part in my career. A huge part. I owe him a lot, so I'm just happy that this has given him something to be proud of."

Stoumbos, 37, grew up in Guelph, Ont., where she started playing soccer when she was 10 and benefited from informal lessons out in the backyard with her dad, who played soccer growing up in a small village in Greece.

"My dad coached me every single day. He would pick up pieces of garbage and we'd put it on the grass to use them as pylons and he would say, 'All right, dribble a ball with your left foot, dribble with your right foot.' It was things like that with my dad that contributed to my skills," explained Stoumbos.

The makeshift practice sessions out in the yard paid off.

Star athlete at Laurier

Stoumbos was a star midfielder at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., where she helped the Golden Hawks win a national title and three provincial championships. She also won the school's President's Award as outstanding athlete three years in a row.

She graduated from Wilfrid Laurier with undergraduate degrees in psychology and kinesiology, but her passion for soccer still burned brightly. She represented Canada at the 1993 World University Games and played for the Buffalo Phillies in the W-League, a semi-pro women's league with teams across Canada and the U.S.

It was with the Canadian national team, though, that Stoumbos carved out a reputation as one of Canada's best players after making her debut in June 1993.

The former midfielder would go on to earn 35 caps for Canada and played for her country at the 1995 FIFA World Cup in Sweden where she made history by becoming the first Canadian player at the senior level, either male or female, to score a goal at a World Cup.

With Canada trailing by three goals against England in its opening game of the tournament, Stoumbos scored off a corner kick in the 87th minute. Canada would add a second goal minutes later but ended up losing 3-2.

Onstad is a two-time MLS goalkeeper of the year. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press) Stoumbos played 35 times for the Canadian women's team. (Photo courtesy Helen Stoumbos)

"I bent it like Helen," joked Stoumbos. "I just curled it in at the back post. I used to score goals like that when I was young because my dad taught me how to curl it, to banana the ball.

"It was a pretty goal, but to be fair the goalkeeper misplayed it, because nobody should score off a corner kick."

At the time it looked as though Stoumbos had a bright and long playing career in front of her, but it was cut short when years of wear and tear on the field caught up to her.

"I got injured in 1999 before the World Cup. I ended up having knee surgery, right before the World Cup and I thought I would be able to make it back, but the surgeon told me I'd probably never run again, let alone play soccer," Stoumbos said.

She tried to come back, but was forced to retire from the game for good before she turned 30.

Despite being denied the opportunity to play the game she loved, Stoumbos said she didn't harbour any bitterness.

Broadcasting career

"No, not at all. I was really content with everything. Everybody thought I would regress after playing at such a high level for so long, but I told them I was just ready for the next phase of my life. The next phase came and it was very easy for me to adjust," Stoumbos said.

Life after soccer saw Stoumbos pursue a career in broadcasting as the host, producer and writer behind Direct Kicks: The Soccer Show, and Direct Kicks for Chicks, two soccer TV shows that aired across the country.

She also co-authored a book (Women's Soccer: The Passionate Game) and served as a colour commentator for women's soccer games for Rogers Sportsnet and CBC Sports.

Today, Stoumbos is a co-partner in Gleam Media, a Guelph-based videography company that covers the world of sports, including the game that is most near and dear to her heart.

"I'm very lucky. How many athletes get to continue in their sport after they finish playing? I've been lucky. Soccer is still one of my loves. It's a huge part of my life and I think it will always be," she said.

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