Olympic star enjoys Kincardine

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There was a touch of gold around the greens during the Crabby Joe's first annual golf tournament Thursday morning.
Two‑time Olympic gold medallist and Canadian national womenÆs hockey team mainstay Cherie Piper was at Ainsdale Golf Club to participate in the tournament and lend her support to the fundraiser for local minor sports.
"We all grew up playing minor sports. Without it, I wouldnÆt be where I am," Piper said before her golf round. "It's so important to have the chance to play. It keeps kids healthy and out of trouble."

Piper, a 27-year-old, is no stranger to the area. Her brother, Steve, and his wife live in Kincardine and she's a frequent visitor. Piper also plays for the Kincardine Crush womenÆs softball team and says trips to Lake Huron help her get away from life in Toronto.

"It's nice to visit. It's just a different atmosphere up here," she said. "When I come here, I can relax. It's refreshing."
Tucked inside a backpack Piper brought to the course was a pair of Olympic gold medals. Piper's first season with the Canadian national senior women's hockey team coincided with the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Canadian team earned gold with a win over the United States.

Four years later, Piper earned a second gold with the womenÆs team in Turin, Italy.
"We have a strong (national) program," Piper said. "We're expected to win, and I believe we can win."
Women's Hockey became an official Olympic sport in 1998. The ascension of the sport helped to jumpstart its popularity in the late 1990s. Piper grew up playing hockey against boys, and she said the game's progression to the highest levels has given young girls a new group of role models.

Piper said she's recognized on the street in some parts of the country and her position as a role model for countless young females is not something she takes lightly.

"I'm proud of what I've accomplished, and I've had so much support," she said. "I (like to) give back, I teach skills at hockey camps. If someone looks up to me, it makes me believe IÆm a good person."

The Women's national team, Piper said, usually trains together just two months out of the year during non‑Olympic years. Each player is responsible for meeting with trainers and continuing a rigorous off‑ice training regime.

Last year, Piper was a member of the Mississauga Chiefs, a Canadian Women's Hockey League team. Many of Canada's top players play in leagues around the country, but none receive the million dollar paycheques of their male counterparts.
"We do love the game," Piper said. "We're not making (lots of money). We love it anyways."

Piper spent a busy day on the course, proudly displaying her two medals for curious onlookers. In a few weeks she'll be back on the ice - with an eye ahead to the Vancouver Olympics and the chance to add more gold to her already bloated trophy case.
"Our future looks promising," she said. "We have great depth. There are a lot of girls playing now."