As women’s football in Manitoba begins to build strong roots, two women have represented values such as consistency, team work and performance. Donning the Canadian jersey at the astounding ages of 46 and 39, Lisa Klaverkamp and Pauline Olynik have found the fountain of youth on the gridiron. Young at heart with an enthusiasm for the game, their efforts paid remarkable dividends as both competed at the IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland.
With the women of pro football in Manitoba giving back to the community through the Manitoba Girls Football Association, Klaverkamp and Olynik (along with other Winnipeg mainstays such as Christine O’Donnell, Amy Mohr, Roxanna Cox and Alexa Matwyczuk) are proving to be role models for a new generation of girls willing to try the game.
The pride of Brandon, Manitoba, Klaverkamp joined the Manitoba Fearless during their inaugural season. At the time, she was 40 years young and was bringing her 16 year-old daughter Andrea to tryouts for the Fearless. After running into Tannis Wilson, the club’s general manager, she was encouraged to try out as well.
Despite her age, that rookie season would mark the beginning of Klaverkamp’s remarkable football journey as she would carve a remarkable legacy as a player. While Klaverkamp may have had early concerns about her age and frame (she is only 130 pounds), her small stature is overshadowed by the fact she has the heart of a lion.
During that first season, she would run into another player that would develop into more than just a teammate, but a cherished friend. Hailing from the francophone community of St. Claude, Pauline Olynik was a 34 year-old who had recently switched careers.
From having dabbled in modeling at a younger age to working in auto body, Olynik was a registered massage therapist when she donned the Fearless jersey. Of note, football was one of many sports she had tried after relocating to Winnipeg, which included speed skating, rowing and boxing.
Early on, both would share the common ground of having been exceptional athletes in high school. Basketball and volleyball were Klaverkamp’s sport of choice in her teens. Ironically, Olynik participated in both sports as well. Having grown up with four older brothers, her love of sport was cultivated at a young age. A high school star in volleyball, it was only a question of time before her athletic skills would take her to a larger stage.
Widely considered as one of the best female defensive backs in Canada, the 39 year-old Olynik competes with the energy and drive of a 29 year-old. In peak physical condition, she looks like she could compete for another decade. Statistically, she ranked seventh on the Canadian team in tackles with 5.5.
Against a Spanish team making their IFAF debut, she would log 2.5 tackles in a 50-0 whitewash, while three tackles were accumulated in a come from behind win against host country Finland. Besides her great contributions on the field, Olynik even managed to provide a warm-hearted rendition of the Canadian national anthem prior to one of Canada’s contests.
Although Klaverkamp did not register any tackles at the IFAF Worlds, her contributions containing the opposition were essential. Reputed as one of the hardest hitters in the WWCFL, it brings to mind a comparison to hockey legend Gordie Howe. Having grown up in the Canadian prairies, he played hockey into his fifties, never losing his reputation as a hard hitter.
One of only two amazing women on the Canadian team over the age of 40, it was only fitting that the other one was also from Manitoba. Amy Mohr, a 45 year-old defensive back with the North Winnipeg Nomads Wolfpack, was once a member of the Fearless. Appropriately, the two still work out together every week.
In the same spirit as Wilson and Lisa Zueff Cummings, both Klaverkamp and Olynik have developed into strong women that helped build women’s football in Manitoba. Klaverkamp is not only the WWCFL representative for the Fearless; she is also the Director of Finance for St. Vital Mustangs football. While both shares a love of the game, another bit of common ground is the remarkable role of motherhood, making them a pair of empathic and patient leaders that are like big sisters for Fearless rookies.
Competing for the Canadian national football team at the IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland was a stage that showcased more than their athletic skills, but their sportsmanship, dedication and perseverance. Having emerged from Finland with a silver medal, an even greater legacy may be the fact that their roles as football pioneers provide a message of inspiration to women of any age that it is never too late to pursue your dreams.