by Dan Plouffe
“I really didn’t want to play basketball because I was terrible at it and wasn’t too keen on only doing cross-country running in the fall, so I started playing field hockey,” explains the Cairine Wilson Secondary School grad. “I just decided to try this random sport and it ended up being a big part of my life.”
Hapuarachchi went on to play for five years at the University of Toronto and racked up award after award, including multiple Ontario Most Valuable Player honours. The next stop on the defender’s path was a four-month stop in Holland to play for a club in the southern town of Breda.
“Field hockey in the Netherlands is like ice hockey here,” Hapuarachchi says of the country that is a frequent world champion. “It was very much engrained in their culture.”
Hapuarachchi’s club alone had six astro-turf pitches and 2,000 members. From young children to seniors in their seventies, they would play games all day on Saturdays, and then watch field hockey on TV after their match.
Hapuarachchi didn’t play in the Dutch premier league, but was still set up with a billet family from the club, and coached several youth teams to earn money while there.
She was able to communicate with her players no problem since they learned English in school from a young age, but the language barrier made Hapuarachchi homesick occasionally.
“At times I was ready to come home, but I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she says. “The level of hockey in Holland – you can’t even compare it to Canada.”
Hapuarachchi is now working on her master’s degree in biomechanics at Kingston’s Queen’s University and travels almost every weekend to Toronto to train with other Ontario-based players who are part of the national team’s high-performance program.
But where Hapuarachchi will go next is kind of up in the air at the moment. Last year, she had a “development card” (half the money full-time amateur athletes receive from the government) but is waiting to hear if she’ll be chosen for carding this year.
“I’m kind of in limbo right now,” says Hapuarachchi, who attended a recent national team training camp in Vancouver and then achieved the benchmarks necessary during fitness testing on Easter weekend in Toronto. “It’s really hard to say because I don’t know what the coach is thinking.”
If Hapuarachchi is picked for carding, she’d likely go to B.C. for close to two months this summer – where most national team players are based. She’s also considered moving there full-time since it’s possible to train outdoors almost all year-round, unlike Ontario.
One benefit of added time inside is that Hapuarachchi has become one of the top Canadian players indoors – she was named MVP of March’s indoor nationals in Calgary.
However, the game played in gymnasiums doesn’t have as high a profile as the outdoor version, so it’s possible Hapuarachchi may only study part-time – even though she’d probably like to get her doctorate in the future – so that she can focus more of her efforts on reaching the international level.
“I’m turning 26 this summer, so I don’t have a ton of years left at the high-performance level,” Hapuarachchi says. “I’ll continue with the national team program as far as it takes me – whether it’s for two or three years, I’ll do it for as long as I can and as long as they want me.”