Canadian women's goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé to retire from soccer after 20 seasons

·3 min read
Canada's Stephanie Labbé announced Wednesday that she will retire from soccer in April, following 20 years of service to the national team and a long professional career. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Canada's Stephanie Labbé announced Wednesday that she will retire from soccer in April, following 20 years of service to the national team and a long professional career. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

With her signature neon-pink headband and a confident smile on her face, soccer goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé helped deliver one of the most significant moments in the history of Canadian sports.

Now, after 20 seasons of national team duty and over a dozen years as a professional footballer, the Olympic champion announced Wednesday she will retire from the national team in April.

"In recent months, I have felt both the weight and the lightness of what soccer has given me, and what I have given back. I poured my heart and soul into this sport," she wrote in a retirement letter on CBCSports.ca.

"I picked up my life and moved around with soccer for years. I have made hard decisions, and left family and friends behind, in search of being my best. I have pushed my physical and mental self to places I didn't know were possible. I mastered the ability to be completely present and joyful in the highest-pressure situations.

"And now I have found clarity and peacefulness in knowing that I have left everything on the field."

Affectionately nicknamed "Canada's national minister of defence," Labbé was at her career best at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.

The 35-year-old Edmonton native stopped two penalties in the gold-medal penalty shootout against Sweden to propel Canada to its first-ever Olympic gold. Not only that, she also blanked the powerful United States in the semifinal and made two penalty saves during Canada's penalty-kick victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals.

WATCH | Labbé, Sinclair join The National to discuss Olympic title:

Her performance was all the more remarkable as she was nursing a rib injury from the opening match against Japan, of which she was in and out of hospital due to blood and fluids in her chest.

Canadians may recall Labbé was grinning with confidence during the most intense moments of those penalty kicks. Asked about her signature shootout smile in a recent episode of POV Podcast with CBC Sports host Anastasia Bucsis, Labbé said she felt "just pure joy and happiness."

"I remember being on that line and thinking 'you're playing in a shootout of an Olympic final. You've been dreaming of this moment for years and worked so hard for this moment.' I was so at peace and calm and so present in the moment. I was just having the greatest time."

Not that there wasn't a teeny bit of mental games happening, too.

"I wanted to show, maybe accentuate, how much fun I was having and how confident and prepared I felt, hoping it would make the opposition second guess their shot just that little bit."

WATCH | Labbé celebrates Olympic gold with fans in Spruce Grove, Alberta:

Labbé earned 85 caps in her international career, recording 43 clean sheets along the way. She's been to three FIFA Women's World Cups and also won Olympic bronze at Rio 2016. This week, she finished second in voting for FIFA's Best goalkeeper award behind Christiane Endler.

Labbé's professional career has taken her to multiple stops in Sweden, to a National Women's Soccer League championship with the North Carolina Courage and now to Paris St-Germain.

Through six games for PSG — three Division 1 Feminine and three Champions League matches — Labbé has six clean sheets.

She's been outspoken in her desire for a domestic women's professional league in Canada and is a champion for the mental health of athletes, of which she's openly shared her experience with depression and anxiety.

WATCH | Labbé's heroics help Canada win gold in shootout of Olympic final:

Through it all, she says the thing that's linked her career together has been curiosity and connection.

"Curiosity to live an authentic, purposeful, driven life outside of soccer. Connections that will last a lifetime, and excitement to make new ones," she wrote.

"I carry so many memories, lessons and gratitude. I vow to put my experience into changing this sport — and the treatment of its athletes — for the better. I vow to inspire the next generation to keep believing in themselves. Because when the stadium lights dim and you take off your cleats for the last time … you alone are the person you want to be proud of.

"And I am damn proud of this Olympic champion."

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