This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly Magazine.
Just before the turn of the century in the suburbs of Vancouver, B.C., a young girl named Shannon rushed onto a green rectangular pitch for the first time in her young life. Barely a foot taller than a standard field hockey stick, the seven-year-old embraced the challenge and the new sport.
"They have really, really small sticks for youth field hockey. I kept my old one. It is like this high," Golden Bear sophomore Shannon Elmitt reflected, holding her hand about knee high to demonstrate the size of the equipment. "I did start playing early, a lot earlier than people in the States. Girls join field hockey in the spring and soccer in the fall in my hometown. And my mom played, so she definitely got me into it."
Elmitt's mother, Gillian Elmitt, may have given her the first push, but Elmitt stuck with it and never looked back. She spent much of her high school career as a dual-sport athlete, playing soccer along with field hockey through grade 12. At one point, she was actually a three-sport athlete, competing as a ski racer with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. As much as she loved skiing, however, it was pretty clear in her mind this was not going to become her main sport.
"I was the kid who was always doing soccer or field hockey, so I would only be there every third weekend," Elmitt said.
"I was really pretty bad. We did the Whistler Cup once and out of 82 skiers, I came in 81st and the last person didn't finish," she added with a laugh.
In field hockey, the results were quite different. Elmitt experienced success at an early age, making a provincial team in grade eight. Her big break through came in 10th grade when she was "carded" (being chosen to have ones training underwritten and financed by the Canadian government) and began training with the national team. In addition to playing with the best players in her country and having access to camps and high-level training programs, her time with the Canadian team also opened other doors, and opened up her passport.
In 2009, she did three "tours" with the national team, heading to Ireland in January of that year. As awesome and enviable as that trip sounds, for Elmitt it was all work and focus.
"To be honest, you don't really see much when you are on tour," she said. "You just go from the hotel to the field and back. The last day we got to go to a part of Dublin where there are lots of cool restaurants and have dinner, which was really nice."
On her next trip, a jaunt down to Bermuda to in March for the Pan American Cup, Elmitt did find some time to explore the islands.
"We were allowed a few days to just travel if our parents were there," said Elmitt, whose parents did make the trip. "We went to beaches and hung out in caves and did some cool adventuresome things."
Her third international tour with the Canadian team took them to the Champions Challenge II, in Kazan, Russia, one of the republic's largest cities and the most important center of Tatar culture.
"We went to a mosque," Elmitt said. "It was really interesting. We got to wear a sarong dress and a scarf on our heads. It was so different than the West, than America and Canada."
No matter how much she focused on the tournament and field hockey, Elmitt found it hard not to appreciate being in a very foreign country.
"It was different because everything was in Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet," Elmitt said. "So going to the grocery store was huge and really hard to deal with the money and speak to people. It wasn't really frustrating as I learned `спасибо' - thank you - and other words, and we just got through with those."
Elmitt spent this last year again training with the Canadian team, but this year's tour was a little less exotic, consisting of a four-game tournament in San Diego where they took on the American Under-19 team in March, in addition to June camp and regular summer workouts with the squad.
Elmitt's ultimate goal: Rio 2016.
"After I get done playing for Cal, I would love to go back to British Columbia and play on the senior team for a few more years," she said. "That would be 2014, so I would hope to be part of the 2016 Olympics. If our team could qualify for that, it would be really good."
Rio would be her first Olympic experience, as a participant or as a fan. Despite living at the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Elmitt did not attend any events or festivities. Instead, she was in Bali during the Games, vacationing with her family.
"We had been to places like Italy, France and England before, but we had never gone anywhere this far away," Elmitt said. "Indonesia wasn't what I was expecting. It was very Third World. But it was so beautiful and the people were so nice."
The Elmitt family traveled to Ubud, practicing yoga in one of the key yoga centers of the world, and spent time lying on the pristine beaches of the islands off the coast of Lombok, admiring the clear blue seas. What she remembers most about the trip, however, came from another of the five senses.
"It is the smell of the trip I remember best," Elmitt said. "That sounds kind of weird, but outside of every door of every shop, there was an incense burner and all the streets smelled amazing."
After finishing her training with the Canadian National team this year, Elmitt slipped away on another vacation before coming back to Berkeley. She spent eight days in her cabin on Savary Island off the coast of Vancouver, tubing, water skiing and boating to mentally prepare herself for another season of Cal field hockey.
"I am really excited for the season," Elmitt said. "We have a good team this year. We lost Megan Psyllos and Lisa Lohre (to graduation), but we were going to lose four players. Maddie Hand and Erin Magill are coming back and are going to be a really big impact this year. We got some really good new foreigners, from Belgium (Caroline Struijk), Namibia (Marcia Venter), and Germany (Lara Kruggel), and two freshmen from California as well (Nicole Wallstedt and Natalie Gibbens)."
They also have a sophomore midfielder from Vancouver with a literal world of experience behind her and in front of her.