Lacombe native Heidi Giles is making huge strides in soccer, with the goal of a professional career in Europe.
The Lacombe Composite High School grad went from playing with the Red Deer Renegades to the Edmonton Strikers.
In 2016, Giles was recruited to play for the University of Mobile in Alabama — which made the national championships all four years she was on the team.
Now, the 22-year-old has moved to Europe, where she’s trying out with the AGF Kvindefodbold.
“It’s a team in Denmark that plays in the highest league,” said Giles.
While everything has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she expects to find out if she’s made the team in about three weeks.
Giles, who was born in Lacombe to a Danish mother and Canadian father, started playing soccer in Clive at the age of 2 1/2. Her mother was her first coach.
Her heroes became Kadeisha Buchanan, a Canadian who plays for the French club Olympique Lyonnais, and retired American Mia Hamm, a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion.
By age 11, Giles was getting noticed in the Red Deer house league. She recalls a Red Deer Renegades coach asking her to tryouts.
After making the team, Giles swiftly became known as a dependable goal scorer, who was able to pick up skills quickly due to a solid work ethic.
Giles’ mantra became a quote by NBA player Kevin Durant: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard…”
“Giving up is not an option for me,” she explained. “I always had big dreams and have been willing to do whatever it takes to get there.”
After high school, she went to university in Alabama to study accounting while getting paid to play soccer.
“Canada does have good female soccer players, but a lot of them find it hard to get anywhere, because Canada does not have many good options to play at a high level,” she explained.
Playing in the States brought her more opportunities: “I was able to secure a full scholarship in Alabama, so I could get a four-year degree and play soccer. I was paid 10 times more than what I was offered in Canada.”
Her new goal is turning pro. Giles said she would eventually like to travel the world with the sport, and end up as a coach with youth teams.
While she believes soccer has gained some traction in North America, it’s still greatly overshadowed here by hockey, and even lacrosse, said Giles.
“I think they need more support and more funding to give the kids more opportunities.”
But she remains grateful for her small city roots and her Red Deer coach, Esad Elkaz.
“He always knew I had more in me to show and to give, so every day, he would push me further.”
Her big take away from central Alberta is: “You don’t have to come from a big city to be the best player in order to follow your dreams.”