After graduating from university Heidi Giles set a goal of playing professional women’s soccer and hoped it would be in her mother’s home country of Denmark.
But there was one problem.
“It’s a small country and sadly they pay the men but not the women,” Giles explained. “I didn’t have a job and needed the money so it didn’t work out.”
What did work out was the opportunity to play in Iceland.
“I was trying to figure out where I could go and the team I ended up with had an agent who knew a coach with my university team (the U of Mobile, Alabama) and they started talking … they said they were interested and it went from there.”
It wasn’t until August when Heidi managed to join the Division 2 team (Fjardabyggd/Hottur/Leiknir or FHL) but was thrown into the starting lineup immediately.
“They were needing a centre back and I played every minute of every game,” said the 22-year-old native of Clive.
And she impressed to say the least as she was named to the season-ending all-star team, despite missing half the season.
“I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I loved the country and I know they want me back.”
But she isn’t positive she’ll return.
“I have a few other offers, so I‘ll see in the next while what I’ll do.”
When it comes to finances the Iceland team won’t take a back seat.
“From what I understand they are one of the best paying teams in the league, so that’s no problem,” she said.
The only disappointing aspect of the season, for the five-foot-eight defender, came late in the season when the league was shut down because of Covid-19
“Being on the east side of the country we didn’t have any cases, but as it wore on it started to show up ain the country and our last two games were cancelled, which was disappointing as we had a good chance to advancing to the next division,” she said.
Heidi grew up in Clive and started playing soccer at an early age.
“My mother (Hanne) played a bit in Denmark and once she moved to Canada she and my father (Kelly) were into sports so they helped build a soccer field, coached and helped others coach so that’s where it started. Mom was my coach since I was 10 and taught me all the basics.”
Heidi played house league in Red Deer and joined the Renegades program when she was “11 or 12” and played with them until joining the Edmonton Strikers when she was 16.
“My goal was to play university in the States and I was told my best chance was to play in Edmonton because of the exposure, which is too bad,” she said. “I really believe there are a lot of good players in Red Deer who deserve to be recognized.”
The move to Edmonton paid off as she played with their U18 and Premier League programs and received a scholarship to the U of Mobile.
“One of my coaches (with the Strikers) was in c0ntact with a girl who was on their team and he got her to contact me and she contacted a coach in Mobile about me. They said they were very interested and contacted me and said if I could make my way down there they’d pay for the ID camp and it went from there.”
She had four solid seasons with the U of M squad and was twice named First-Team All-Conference and scholastic athlete of the year.
Heidi got her first taste of international competition following her first year with Mobile.
“A girl on the university team was from Denmark and had contact plus my mom’s family and friends are there and a lot of them are involved in soccer. So it worked out that for three summers I played in Denmark,” she said.
Heidi graduated from Mobile with an accounting degree in May.
“I originally wanted to take athletic training but needed additional courses so accounting it was,” she said. “Actually I’m interested in business law, and I may still look at that after my playing days are over in maybe 15 years … whenever soccer has kicked me to the ground.
“My career has been a long and slow process, but every step has been incredible and I still have big plans and dreams what I want to do.”
She’d love to get into coaching when her playing days are over. She’s already involved with the Renegades U15 girls program.
“I was training with the U15 program before Covid and was asked by my former coach Ezad (Elkaz) to help with the technical side and training. He said I could be an inspiration to the girls.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and since I’ve been home I’m in contact with the girls by zoom once a week and they’re doing fantastic.”
Since arriving home in the middle of November Heidi had 14 days of isolation before getting back outside to train.
“I’ve been shovelling off fields to play but mainly I’m in the basement as I have a big area to mess around in,” she said with a laugh.
Heidi will decide in the next few weeks where she’ll be next year.
“If I return to Iceland it will likely be in May as their league starts in June, but I haven’t talked with anyone yet.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org