Zadorsky playing for more than a medal in Tokyo

Shelina Zadorsky speaks with FIFA.com ahead of Tokyo 2020

  • Canada defender was named Tottenham Hotspur’s player of the season

  • She raised money for mental health awareness after losing cousin to suicide

Shelina Zadorsky will be playing for much more than a medal in Japan. In March of this year she lost her cousin Carley, one of her biggest supporters, to suicide.

Along with the grief she worked through, she and her family set up a fundraising group through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, and Zadorsky donated two of her match-worn jerseys to the cause.

“It’s crazy how many people have experienced a close relative or friend or anyone struggling with mental health,” Zadorsky told FIFA.com. “I want it to be talked about and I don’t want there to be this stigma that we’re always supposed to be fine all the time and to deal with things on our own.”

Zadorsky is bubbly, energetic and warmhearted on the phone, speaking from pre-Olympic training camp. She’s a self-professed “football nerd”, an avid consumer of Premier League and Champions League matches.

She is obsessed with progress. Moments after draping the bronze medal over her head on a late afternoon in Sao Paulo in 2016, she was already setting goals for the next Olympic Games. And as much as she’s grateful for her career, she’s learned over time to be thankful for each moment, each match and each aerial duel.

“I want to use my platform to say it’s ok to ask for help,” said Zadorsky. “Having something happen so close to home, I realised that life is short and we need to help each other through these times. The reaction and the support that people provided was beyond what I could have ever expected. I really appreciate that.”

Canada are preparing for group matches against hosts Japan, Team GB and Chile. Zadorsky’s in top form, coming off a season in the FA WSL with Tottenham Hotspur where she was up against high quality forwards, week-in and week-out.

The 28-year-old says that coach Bev Priestman has helped the team return to its Canadian identity of grit and tenacious defending.

“She’s come in with a great structure and really helped us with that. Training’s been awesome. We’re going to work hard, defend hard, but we want to add that bravery piece. We want to be braver on the ball, take chances and to all be leaders out there.”

I want to use my platform to say it’s ok to ask for help.
Shelina Zadorsky

Zadorsky’s looking forward to playing against a variety of opposition: the “beautiful football” of the Japanese, “strong aerial and physical play” of the British and the “flair and technical ability” Chile brings to the table. And while Zadorsky will be full of determination in adding to Canada’s proud recent history in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament and “wanting to change the colour of the medal” this time around, she’ll be a strong testament to anyone who may be struggling with mental health or who have someone close to them who are.

“I know a lot of people have similar experiences, so I think coming together and helping each other and talking about your own mental health is a powerful place to be. Thankfully I’ve been in environments where we do have mental coaches and people we can open up with and I just hope everyone has someone in their life they can really open to.”

Along with any success Zadorsky may experience in Tokyo, Carley will be in her thoughts and she will soak in another precious moment of life.