Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod wipes tears from her eyes after losing 2-1 to England during a FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday June 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod wipes tears from her eyes after losing 2-1 to England during a FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday June 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canadian ‘keeper Erin McLeod happy in Iceland, looks to help others stay positive

Orlando loaned McLeod to Iceland’s Ungmennafelag Stjarnan in August

After enduring a COVID-19 outbreak that kept the Orlando Pride from taking part in the NWSL’s Challenge Cup, Erin McLeod is enjoying life on and off the field in Iceland.

But as always, the veteran Canadian goalkeeper has more than soccer on her mind.

McLeod has expanded the mindfulness project she launched last November, rolling out a high-performance sport program this week. A European pro team has already signed on, she reports.

“We’re really proud of it,” she said. “I’m excited to see how it goes.”

She believes the project is especially timely given the global pandemic.

“It’s unfortunate but it is crucial right not to be able to focus on the things you can control, to be able to focus and keep in the present moment which is when you have the least amount of stress and anxiety,” she said.

The 37-year-old from St. Albert, Alta., has long been an avid reader of self-help books and admits to having beaten herself up over mistakes made on the field in the past. She has improved on that score over the years, drawing from coaches, sports psychologists and her own experiences.

That turned into the Mindful Project, developed in tandem with Bethel University professor Rachel Lindvall. The goal is to help focus more on positive thoughts while moving past negative ones.

Orlando loaned McLeod in August to Iceland’s Ungmennafelag Stjarnan through the end of its season, which has been slightly delayed due because of a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Other than that It’s been really wonderful, actually,” McLeod said. “It’s been nice to play a lot of games and regular training. And of course, Iceland is also very beautiful. It’s been nice on days off to go exploring and see more of the country.”

That include a recent scuba diving expedition between two tectonic plates.

“It was pretty awesome, actually. It was freezing but it was unbelievable,” she said with a laugh.

McLeod has a willing tour guide. Her partner Gunny Jonsdottir, a native of Iceland who used to play for Stjarnan, is on loan to Iceland’s Valur from the NWSL Utah Royals.

Valur won 3-0 when the two teams met last month.

The two had planned to visit Iceland together. With the NWSL playing a delayed, reduced schedule and Iceland showing low COVID numbers at the time, they decided to play out the season there.

“It’s really worked out. I’m really happy to be here,” McLeod said from Reykjavik.

She admits her Icelandic is “pretty horrible,” however.

“There are some sounds that just don’t exist in our language,” she said. “It’s a struggle sometimes.”

McLeod signed a one-year deal with the Pride ahead of the 2020 season with an option for an additional year.

She played in Europe before that, at Sweden’s FC Rosengard and Vaxjo DFF and Germany’s SC Sand and FF USV Jena. Prior to that, she had stints with the Houston Dash, Chicago Red Stars, Washington Freedom, Vancouver Whitecaps and Sweden’s Dalsjofors GolF.

McLeod had been slowed by a painful foot issue before joining Orlando. The injury, which kept her out of contention for last year’s World Cup in France, was initially thought to be plantar fasciitis. A specialist eventually diagnosed tarsal tunnel syndrome — a painful condition that sees swelling in the foot put pressure on the nerve.

“The feet are OK,” she said. “I have to accept I’m older and I just have to watch the amount of training I’m doing, recovering all the time … Quality over quantity is really important for where I’m at in my career, that’s for sure.”

Her improved health was shown by the fact she was invited to the Canadian camp scheduled for this month in England, only to see it cancelled on the advice of health experts.

McLeod escaped the virus outbreak that kept Orlando out of this summer’s Challenge Cup in Utah. She says it was a challenging time, not only for the concerns over how widespread the contagion was with the team but also the constant demands of trying to stay safe.

“It was definitely a blow, but I’m proud of the girls (who went on to play in the league’s Fall Series). It’s been a bumpy road but this is a year of a lot of learning, for sure,” said McLeod, who did not test positive.

“Football means so much to me but at the end of the day you’ve got to put your health and safety first,” she added.

The Mindful Project started with an eye to children aged 6 to 12, then expanded to programs for sports clubs and adults.

McLeod calls it a program to empower users but also give them the tools to deal with anxiety and depression and outside pressures and “help them find who they are and have the strength to follow that.”

It is designed for group use with a mixture of different techniques, including guided meditation, breathing exercises, journalling, and art- and music-based exercises designed specifically for students and athletes.

McLeod, who is also an artist, musician and entrepreneur as well as an LGBT spokeswoman away from the soccer field, has won 118 caps for Canada, with 45 clean sheets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2020.