From left to right; Tyrann Mathieu, Hayley Wickenheiser and Lyle Thompson
Who was your favourite athlete growing up? Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum
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Gee-Gees discuss their favourite athletes

Growing up, every athlete has someone they look up to — a professional player, a coach, maybe even an older brother or sister. Here are athletes that University of Ottawa Gee-Gees idolized growing up. 

Katherine Birkby – Women’s hockey

Hayley Wickenheiser has been a great role model for female athletes across every sport. She has accomplished great things as an athlete and for Hockey Canada’s hockey program.

“Hayley Wickenheiser was definitely one of my biggest role models,” said Katherine Birkby, a third-year Gee on the women’s hockey team. 

“I grew up in a really small town where hockey was a sport that not many girls played.” 

The Ayr, Ont. native watched Hayley Wickenheiser compete for Team Canada and felt reassurance. 

“I sometimes felt out of place, or like I was playing the wrong sport,” Birkby said. “She [Wickenheiser] gave me hope that I could make a name for myself through hockey and that it wasn’t just a sport for boys.”

“I really don’t think female hockey would be where it is today without her because of the impact she had on kids like me.” 

Emmanuel Aboagye-Gyan – Football

Emmanuel Aboagye-Gyan started looking up to Tyrann Mathieu — nicknamed the Honey Badger — when he started playing high school football. 

Mathieu has experienced plenty of ups and downs throughout his college career at Louisiana State University (LSU) and then in the NFL. His story had a big influence on Aboagye-Gyan 

“I looked to him first because of his story and what he overcame, and now, because of the type of player he is,” Aboagye-Gyan said. 

“He was seen as one of the best defensive backs in the nation and was expected to go very high in the NFL draft but he, unfortunately, got in some trouble and was kicked off the [LSU] team after failing multiple drug tests, got arrested on a drug charge, and even check[ed] into rehab.” 

“He over[came] everything, cleaned up his act, focused on training and got drafted in the third round.”

The hardships did not end there, as Mathieu suffered three major injuries in his first three seasons in the league. Again, he worked to overcome his injuries and is now among the top defensive backs in the NFL. 

“Seeing that, the younger me was super inspired to always push for my dreams no matter what happens, what I go through, and what people might say because everything is in my hands,” Aboagye-Gyan said. 

“Always be the hardest worker in the room.” 

Dylan Leclair – Men’s lacrosse

For Dylan Leclair, a midfielder on the U of O lacrosse team, the way Lyle Thompson played the game left a lasting impression. 

“Lyle Thompson is someone I have always looked up to ever since I started playing lacrosse,” Leclair said. 

“He plays the game with such respect and talent it’s kind of hard not to love him. He plays the game with a crazy amount of creativity which is something I always thought was really impressive.”

For upcoming athletes, Leclair offers three pieces of advice. 

“Always work as hard as you can in whatever you do … be confident in yourself and your capabilities, and lastly, don’t play for the name on the back of the jersey, play for the logo on the front. Put your team first and do what’s best for your team.”

Ogechi Ahunanya – Women’s rugby

Ogechi Ahunanya, a player on the women’s rugby team, looks up to an athlete known for her passion: Pamphinette Buisa. 

“Pamphinette Buisa is an amazing, decorated rugby sevens player, but I think her character is the most captivating part about her,” Ahunanya said. 

“[Buisa] always stands for the right thing, is a resilient, strong and passionate leader everywhere she goes.”

“She is a direct example of someone being the change they would like to see in the world, and I believe that we could all learn something from her.” 

Ahunanya believes in how important it is to have a good attitude, a message that Buisa represents.

“Gratitude is contagious and transformational; it can change your life and the life of those around you for the better.”