Chatting with Sophie Schmidt: Abbotsford’s Olympic bronze medalist has a vision for Canadian soccer

Photo Credit Anthony Biondi

By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 7, 2012

Sophie Schmidt is an Abbotsford girl who also happens to be an Olympic bronze medalist with the Canadian women’s soccer team. She comes from a family of successful soccer players and is one of the most recognized Canadian athletes of the year. Schmidt flew to Italy on Tuesday, but was generous enough to talk to us the day before about her life, her sport and her vision for Canadian soccer.

Pre-game meal: Toast, peanut butter and jam (three hours before game)
Favourite hairstyle: Faux-hawk up-do
Dogs or Cats: Dogs
Languages spoken (besides English): German and some Italian
Place of Birth: Winnipeg
Favourite Restaurant: I just like Thai food
Go-to Karaoke song: “Dreams” by The Cranberries

You were pretty famous in Abbotsford before the Olympics. Now you’re really famous. So how has your life changed coming back to Abbotsford and Canada?

It’s weird to be recognized, even walking down the street or at the mall. I’ll hear, “Sophie Schmidt!” being yelled and I’ll turn around and they’re like, ”See it is her!” It’s just weird. People say “hi” and I don’t know them and that’s  strange for me, but it’s nice to be recognized. It’s cool to know that people watched, and by them knowing me or my face they were a part of that process, so that’s really awesome. Especially for soccer, just to kind of see the excitement in the girls and to give back to them . . . at times it’s overwhelming because I’m more of a shy person, and being invited to come do autographs and pictures and speeches, it’s something new.

How were you received by family and friends?

Amazing. When I came back to the airport there were all the fans there, and my family brought flowers. I didn’t even recognize my mom because she’d coloured her hair blonde so people would remember to pray for me at church.  It was her way of reminding them.  That was kind of cool to see her go to that extreme. My family and church and friends put on a celebration for me one evening, invited all the coaches from past and different avenues of my life . . . it was really cool and exciting to say “thank you” to everyone who’s been a part of the process.

So funny question, I was at the pool this morning talking to this guy, a senior citizen. It came out that I was interviewing you today; he knew who you were, and I asked if he had any questions he thought I should ask you.  He looked thoughtful, and then said “If I were you, I’d ask ‘are you married?” Not what I was expecting, but how does it feel to be the most glamorous bachelorette of Abbotsford?

I have not even thought about it in that sense. I’m flattered?

Schmidt easily dribbles a ball past sports editor Paul Esau

You’ve done a lot of work in Abbotsford: visiting elementary schools, high schools, soccer clubs and community events. Why are these opportunities important to you? What are you trying to accomplish?

[While deciding on] one of our [team] goals leading up to the Olympics, we talked about if we don’t win a medal were we a failure? And we decided no, that’s not going to define us. Our ultimate goal is to inspire Canada, to inspire the next generation of soccer players . . . so that was our theme heading into the Olympics, and I think we were able to do that. So now a big part of it for me is to keep inspiring, inspiring more at the grassroots and giving back.  I never really met anybody when I was younger that I could live up to . . . but when I found out I was like “I want to be like that, I want to do that.” So if I can inspire dreams, soccer-related or not, get kids to follow their dreams, that’s pretty special. I think the platform that I have, that I did come from Abbotsford . . . then it can happen for them too.

Spider-man tells us “with great power comes great responsibility.” How are you trying to use the influence and skill you’ve been given?

I think I’ve been blessed with my soccer ability. I mean I’ve put a lot of work in, but a lot of it is skill that I’ve been given. So for me it’s been important to be humble and work as hard as I can to get the most out of myself, to push myself, to get the best . . . Being a spiritual, faith-based person I think it’s God’s plan that I’m here, and [although] I’m not sure exactly what it is that I’m supposed to do, I think to kind of share his message of love in the position that he’s put me in, I think that’s kind of cool. Everybody I meet, I want to make them feel important. Especially coming from an Olympian, I think it’s cool for people to feel like they’re not just another handshake.

So in the spring you signed with a Swedish club named Kristianstads for the short term.  This is your first time playing for a European club. What are the biggest differences from North American clubs? What most surprised you?

Culture, I think. Speaking a different a language, your teammates on the field don’t speak English so I had to find a way to communicate with them. And their medical system. I came there injured, I had a sprained ankle, and they seemed very old-school [laughs] . . . The feeling of family as well, especially playing for an international club and to come and feel really welcome. We had a couple Icelandic players, and Swedish players, and someone from Norway, and we all cared about each other and we got along.

So I asked the soccer coaches here at UFV what questions they would have for you, and I got a couple for you to answer. First of all, which of your coaches has made you the most fit?

I would say probably this last coach [John Herdman]. I think there was a progression. Carolina, I lost weight when she was our coach, which helps when you’re trying to run a lot. In terms of our fitness, this last cycle has been my turning point. We got these watches, the heart rate monitor, GPS watches, and we were all excited as a team. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse because we have to upload all our data online so our trainer can monitor us . . . sometimes it was hard, but it keeps you accountable to the team.

Or you just strap the watch to your dog and give him a wack on the butt.

And [the trainer asks] “why was your heart rate three hundred beats over what it normally is?” . . . But I think that’s one of the reasons why we won a medal, because our coach wanted us to be one of the fittest teams there.

So UFV coach Rob Giesbrecht asked what advice would you have for girls coming up through the Abbotsford soccer system. You went through it yourself, so what advice do you have?

To make it to the next level, or to be a cut above the rest, you  need to do more than just going to practices and playing games. If everybody could make it then everybody would, but it’s not always easy . . . there are sacrifices that you have to make, but if it’s really what you want to do than it’s totally worth it.

Schmidt juggles outside C Building on the Abbotsford campus

So what do you have to do extra?

Just love the game. The thing that helped you the most was going out and doing more soccer stuff, living with the ball a little bit, playing around with my brothers, and especially when I wasn’t fit getting running in to make sure . . . and then watching soccer. Especially in North America you watch a lot of football and hockey, and you have a better understanding, an appreciation of the game the more you watch it. Not just as a fan, but when you pick out players and watch them in your position and learn habits.

In your opinion, who’s the best soccer player in your family?

When we were younger it was my dad. He was like a brick, we couldn’t get the ball away from him. [Now], I would think [my older brother] Spencer is . . . I think his understanding of the game and the way he plays, I think he’s a great soccer player. So much of the player I am today is because of him. He let me player soccer with him, he picked me for street soccer games when we were little even though no other girl was playing.

Obviously what’s been hitting the news recently is the Sinclair hearing and suspension. You can’t talk about whether you agree with it or not, but you can talk about what it meant to the team.

I think as a team we’re just annoyed more than anything. It’s so after the fact that it’s hard to even talk about, there’s nothing we can do, it’s just how it is.  In terms of that game there was so much stuff going on in terms of controversy and the ref and all of that and that was a big focus. As a player, yeah, it’s disappointing, but that happens in soccer; but for me personally it’s more of the things that we could have done on our own terms to not even get into that position. [Our] mistakes frustrate me more than how the calls influenced the game.

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