A sea of red and white appeared at Chilliwack’s Exhibition Field Wednesday night to welcome Jordyn Huitema home.
Less than a week after the 20-year-old won Olympic gold with the Canadian national women’s soccer squad, she found herself in front of hundreds of people, her trademark smile beaming bright.
After speeches from Chilliwack mayor Ken Popove, Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl, Chilliwack FC technical director Glenn Wilson and Squiala Chief David Jimmie, the Olympian stepped up to the mic to cheers from the stands.
“First off I want to apologize for my voice, but this is what screaming for days after winning a gold medal win does to it,” she said. “I want to say thank you to the thousands of people across Chilliwack who gave up sleep to witness our historic performance first-hand.”
After talking for a few moments about how COVID impacted the Olympic experience, Huitema finished with another thank you before heading off to sign roughly 1,000 autographs.
“Thank you for everyone standing here today and everyone who supported us through this crazy ride,” she said. “You are all truly the 23rd player on our roster.”
You’ll not find a better ambassador for Chilliwack than Huitema. In an interview with The Progress earlier in the day, she said she takes home with her wherever she goes, and Chilliwack was with her for the biggest moment of her life in Tokyo.
“I carry every inch and every story I’ve created here. I love Chilliwack and I try to bring Chilliwack into every conversation I have,” she said. “Even with my posts on Instagram, I’m always trying to mention my hometown and give back a bit for everything they’ve done for me.”
“For me, Chilliwack is a small town that deserves more recognition than it gets. It’s a piece of me, a big piece of my story and I like everyone to know that.”
Everything that’s happened over the last three weeks has been a dream come true for Huitema, who got her soccer start with Chilliwack FC, dreaming of one day being an Olympian.
She made her Olympic debut July 27 in a 1-1 draw against Great Britain, and 10 days later lived out her ultimate dream at International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.
So much, so fast.
“It was super intense, and the PKs (penalty kicks) was a crazy way to end it all,” she said, describing the Olympic experience. “I’m still kind of speechless about the topic. It’s been hard to get it to kick in that we actually won the Olympics. We kept saying after the game, ‘We just won. We just did that.’
Huitema played 36 minutes in that Aug. 6 gold-medal match vs Sweden, subbing in at the 86 minute mark for Canadian captain Christine Sinclair. Huitema played 91 minutes over four Olympic appearances.
“It was super super special sharing that moment with Christine,” Huitema said. “I think she knows that I’ve always looked up to her and she’s been a big role model in my life. To go through that journey together has been incredible.
“Hopefully it was as special of a moment for her as it was for me.”
With 38-year-old Sinclair likely (but not certainly) to retire before the next Olympics, Huitema may be in line for a much larger role at the Paris Games in 2024.
While she enjoys the spotlight and the adulation now, she is an elite-level athlete and they tend to turn the page quickly.
These Olympics are done and after taking a few days to enjoy it she’ll be turning her attention to what’s next.
Pro soccer with Paris St-Germain. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The 2024 Olympics in Paris.
There’s so much more to come.
“This has shown the potential of Canada,” Huitema said. “We’ve been underestimated for a very long time and this is just the beginning. When Canada won bronze for the first time (at the London 2012 Olympics), it was the start of a new era, and this gold medal win is another new beginning that will lead to bigger and better things.
“I’m hungry for more on the field, and even hungrier off the field, pushing for more. Getting better contracts and more exposure on TV for young girls and boys to be able to watch us year round, and not just every four years at the Olympics or another big stage.
“I think there’s an on and off field push coming that’s going to take this team to a new place.”
l People at the Red, White and Gold celebration had a chance to take home a piece of history. Huitema donated one of her jerseys from the Tokyo Olympics for a silent auction, with proceeds going to Chilliwack FC’s Soccer Fund.
The Soccer Fund “provides financial assistance to players and their families who wish to participate in Chilliwack FC but find themselves financially disadvantaged.”
The starting bid was $150 and it sold for $8,119.
“Chilliwack FC is always so thankful to Jordyn for her generosity to the club, always making time for us when she’s home and now generously donating a piece of Canadian soccer history to help our Chilliwack FC Soccer Fund grow so we can continue to assist disadvantaged families in Chilliwack play the beautiful game,” said Chilliwack FC chair Andrea Laycock. “If you look up hometown hero in the dictionary, you’ll find her picture next to it. Thank you Jordyn!”