Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Valkyries in the news

Candace Bloomquist's sporting legacy continues to grow in Saskatoon
By: Mark Thibert Staffieri for Women Talk Sports, May 4, 2015

In the football mad region of Saskatchewan, a quickly growing segment of the sport revolves around women’s football. Two of its most accomplished teams, the Saskatoon Valkyries and the Regina Riot are among the most successful teams in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL). Heading into the 2015 season, it marks the transition into a new era for not only the Valkyries but the league as well.

Of note, the 2014 WWCFL championship game would prove to be the final one in Bloomquist’s career. By game’s end, her performance only added to Valkyries lore. Against the Lethbridge Steel, she picked apart their defense with remarkable precision, completing 21 of 30 passes while accumulating 347 passing yards and two touchdown passes. For her sterling efforts, she was recognized as the game’s Most Valuable Player, a fitting tribute.

Having established herself as the most honored quarterback in the nascent history of the WWCFL (losing only one game in four seasons); Candace Bloomquist announced her retirement after leading the Valkyries to their fourth consecutive league title. For the Nebraska-born Bloomquist, who has now made her permanent home in Saskatoon, the opportunity to be part of football history signifies more than just personal accomplishments.
Bloomquist vs. Lethbridge Steel (Photo by Louis Christ)
As the first quarterback in Canadian female football history to win four championships in a row, Bloomquist is part of one of Canada’s great modern-day female sports dynasties. While she reflects on it proudly, she also looks towards the future, seeing what this historic feat means in the bigger picture for the game’s growth, 

“To me winning four championships in a row means I got to share some really wonderful times with my teammates, coaches, staff and volunteers with the Saskatoon Valkyries. I will cherish those memories for a very long time. Being the first woman in Canadian football history to achieve that goal means it is only just the beginning for the sport. To be part of something at the beginning is exhilarating.

There is a lot of energy and we continue to build on the momentum that keeps escalating each year. I look forward to seeing more women reach their goals, whether it be four championships in a row or whatever goal they set for themselves.”

Prior to gracing the gridiron, Bloomquist made her mark on the hardcourt. Competing with the Creighton University Blue Jays, her twin sisters, Christina and Carisa competed at Mount Marty College. Consistently showing progress in every season, her finest may have come during the 1999-2000 campaign. Playing in 26 games, she led the Blue Jays in field goal percentage while registering ten career-high performances. This was complemented by earning the Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award.

Upon graduation from Creighton with a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology, Bloomquist subsequently served in the United States Army. Her education would prove to serve her well in admirable service to her country, as her military service involved work as a Medical Laboratory Specialist. Lessons learned from such experiences with the Blue Jays and the US Army formed the foundation for greater glories to come.

“I think my experience playing basketball and serving in the US Army contributed to my preparation for football. What I learned from basketball was that “success is never final.” Basketball is a very long season with a short off-season. We played lots of games and winning one game early in the season meant nothing unless you could maintain your success and peak at the end of the season.
Football on the other hand is a very short season, with a very long off-season, but the same principle applies, one win does not make a championship. Every game, every quarter, every snap of the ball was a new opportunity to prove our success.
What I learned from the US Army that maybe helped prepare me for football might be best put, “Perhaps one day this too will be pleasant to remember.” Basic training was not easy physically, being deployed to Germany during an intense time in the build up to the Iraq war was not an easy time mentally.

Playing football is not an easy game and it is not easy on the body. Especially on a body that has already seen its fair share of intense sports and injuries, as mine had. There were days that were more painful than others and took more and less mental energy than other, but fortunately the moments I remember most are the times when we worked together as a team to have fun and achieve something special.”

Extending her education with a Masters Degree from Kansas State University, Bloomquist would also earn a Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Of note, the Prairie Province would result in an athletic renaissance for the remarkable Bloomquist.

Not only would she provide the nascent WWCFL with an unprecedented dynasty, but she made an effort to give back to the community. Among her proud football legacy in Saskatchewan, she took the initiative of becoming a certified football coach. With the support of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport (CAAWS), she was as one of their recipients of its WISE fund in 2011.

The result was that Bloomquist would add coach to her sparkling sporting resume, participating in youth football. Looking to develop skills, confidence and self-esteem; it was a great opportunity for a new generation of aspiring footballers to benefit from Bloomquist’s strong leadership and mentoring. In addition, Bloomquist was also part of Football Saskatchewan’s first tackle football camp exclusively for females.

“Giving back to my local community is very important to me. There are so many people that have worked hard and volunteered their time so that I could participate in the activities that have meant so much to me. It is now my turn to pay it forward and return that energy back into the community. I hope to help work to make positive opportunities, like playing football or participating in other sports, accessible to everyone who wants to play regardless of gender, income, education, disability, etc.

The Saskatoon Valkyries organization is full of wonderful volunteers, coaches, staff and players who are passionate about football and giving back to the community. I am very happy to be part of the Valkyries organization, as well as the Saskatoon Sport Council and the SaskSport Inc. Parasport Committee.”

Since hanging up her helmet, she has been involved in a wide variety of activities, ranging from serving as an ambassador for the Lung Association of Saskatchewan and a Board member with the Saskatoon Sport Council. Also finding the time to sit on various boards and committees, it is testament to the qualities that makes Bloomquist an outstanding leader, qualities that still shine in her post-playing career.

With roots firmly entrenched in Saskatoon, is still very dedicated to the Valkyries and the betterment of the community. Part of the Valkyries front office, her positive influence remains a pillar for the future of the organization. As a side note, the upcoming football season allows Bloomquist to engage in a new and exciting challenge.

“Starting next week I will be a referee for our new high school girls flag football league (it is called Rush Football). I coached last year in the inaugural year and this year I will be supporting the league by reffing. We just held our skills jamboree this evening with over 150 high school age girls participating (and every single one of them came through our quarterback station to learn the fundamental skills of being a quarterback!).”

For sporting fans in Saskatchewan, the last four years of Candace Bloomquist’s remarkable run with the Valkyries is part of a sporting legacy that shall live on, positively influencing so many young women to pursue their dreams. With female football still in its early years, Bloomquist’s historical accomplishments only serve to add to its growing mythology, while contributing a new chapter in modern sporting Canadiana.