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'The third team on the field':  Carol Anne Chénard supported by fellow soccer refs after cancer diagnosis


It was just two days before Ottawa referee Carol Anne Chénard was set to fly to France for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

She had undergone the required three-and-a-half years of rigorous training and preparation for selected FIFA referees. Everything was settled at her job at Health Canada for her to take the time off. Most of her belongings were packed; just a few smaller items were left to be crammed into her bags.

They never made it into her suitcase.

Chénard, one of Canada’s most experienced female referees, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of May and would be unable to participate in this year’s Women’s World Cup.

“Unfortunately it really was last minute … I didn’t have a lot of time to digest it, I guess, because it was two days away from leaving for the World Cup,” she said with a laugh. “It obviously creates a lot of anxiety … I’m human like everyone else, so I was scared.”

After speaking to her family and doctors, she decided to sit this World Cup out.

“Obviously I’m disappointed that I can’t be there, but health is the most important thing we have,” she said. “Without my health, I’ll never get back on the field again.”

With an eventual return to the pitch in mind, she focused on starting the healing process as soon as possible. Luckily, her cancer was detected early, so it’s treatable. She had her first round of chemotherapy on Friday, which is a routine that will continue into the summer.

“I feel good, a little bit sleepy, but other than that the side effects have been quite mild for my first treatment, so I think that’s pretty positive” she said.

Though Chénard says she made the right choice, having to stay behind while her colleagues are in France is tough.

“They’re doing so well … We worked so hard together for the last three-and-a-half years and you expect to be spending time with them …  I was obviously devastated to not be able to go.

“Every international game is really exciting, but the World Cup is the pinnacle, whether you’re an athlete, a coach, a referee or volunteer. It’s the culmination of all the hard work we’ve done over the past few years,” she said.

Chénard considers herself lucky to have been able to call matches for the 2011- and 2015-Women’s World Cups. In 2015, it was held in Canada. The first game she refereed was held in Ottawa, where she lives.

“Before the game as they’re showing the pictures on the big screen, when the referee’s picture comes up, there’s usually not too much excitement in the stadium, but for that one I could hear some cheering,” she said.

Fortunately, that experience doesn’t have to be her last at a FIFA World Cup.

FIFA announced in 2014 it was abolishing the age limit for referees at international events. The limit was 45, and because World Cups take place every four years, the one in France would have been 42-year-old Chénard’s last.

However, like always, she isn’t thinking too much about the future.

“Even when you’re healthy, as a referee you can’t look too far ahead. You’re only as best as the last game you refereed, so you have to show them … every single game, that you deserve to be there,” she said. “But I think, at the age I am now, I’m taking it year by year.”

And just because Chénard can’t be in France in person doesn’t mean her fellow referees aren’t giving her a front-row view of all the FIFA excitement.

“(We call) the refereeing team … the third team on the field,” she said. “The referee family is strong. I’ve heard from so many people from around the world, all over Canada, all levels of refereeing.”

“(They’re) sending me videos and I’m getting updates. I really miss them, I wish I was there to support them, but I’m doing my best from far away watching on TV,” she said.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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