If there’s such a thing as Cloud 10, Joan Mathias has found it.
The Courtenay resident, a member of the Maple Pool United street soccer team, has been selected to play on the Canadian women’s team at the Homeless World Cup of soccer next month in Mexico City.
Officials from Street Soccer Canada made the selection last weekend at the Western Canadian qualifier in Kelowna, where Mathias and four Maple Pool teammates competed.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Mathias said. “It (Kelowna) was just phenomenal. What a great memory we just created. The journey was good, and it hasn’t stopped yet.”
Formed this year out of the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society street soccer program, Maple Pool United competed at its first tournament this summer in Victoria. The team practises weekly at Maple Pool Campground in Courtenay. The program provides an opportunity for homeless and marginalized individuals to exercise and socialize, and to engage in competition.
In Kelowna, the squad was outfitted with soccer shirts, shorts, socks and shin pads.
“We met some really interesting people,” said Mathias, noting a goalkeeper who played at last year’s Homeless World Cup in Paris. “We learned a lot. It was well worth the trip.”
Maple Pool United played several games in one day, including matches against Calgary, Victoria and Vancouver.
“It was a total test on our bodies,” said Mathias, who scored a goal in a 3-2 loss against the Vancouver side. It was the first time Maple Pool has held a lead in a game.
“What a great feeling when you see that ball go into the net.”
The local side improved considerably after receiving some pointers on positioning and defending from a member of Street Soccer Canada’s scouting crew.
In street soccer, four-player teams compete on a field about 22 metres long with hockey-size nets.
The program has provided Mathias an opportunity to rediscover her sporting past.
“I’ve always been a sport nut,” she said. “I lived for baseball, actually.”
Like many athletes, Mathias has been sidelined by injury. In her case it was a neck injury, for which she has undergone surgery.
“I never did fully recover from it,” she said. “I live with chronic pain. The soccer helps me focus on something other than my pain.”
But she’s not one to complain.
“I suck it up and just live.”
She has also quit smoking — a testament to the physical fitness component of the street soccer program.
“We’re very fortunate to be a part of Dawn to Dawn,” said Mathias, who receives patches each week from the Care-A-Van mobile medical unit.
“I’m very grateful. I’m just glad that we were able to do this trip. I’m at a loss for words.”
Next year, the Comox Valley will host the Western Canadian qualifier for the Homeless World Cup. Games will be played at the Lewis Centre in Courtenay.
“It’s hard to believe we’ve only been playing soccer for six months,” Mathias said. “So much good is happening. This is definitely my year.”
Along with Dawn to Dawn and Street Soccer Canada, Maple Pool United has been supported by the Comox, Strathcona Sunrise and Courtenay Rotary clubs.