No limits. Whether getting up after a hard check in hockey, diving to reach a short hop on the softball field or leaning into a turn on a Crashed Ice course, the theme of Jessica Newman’s life has been to push through barriers.
Now, as a coach and mother of two young daughters, the 30-year-old wants to pass those lessons along to the youth she mentors and people she loves most.
“My goal through coaching is to give them that sense of confidence that they can accomplish whatever they want,” Newman said. “I want them to know that they can do anything they set their minds to.”
Early in life, Newman’s competitive drive was obvious.
She recalls being introduced to softball at the age of three in Richmond, B.C. After hitting a softball hard, it accidentally hit another young child during a T-ball game. She was promptly moved up to play with older kids.
“In my mind the ball just looked like a big melon,” she said.
A year later, her father asked her whether she wanted to play hockey with girls or boys, and without hesitation she picked the boys.
“I was a very rambunctious little child,” she said.
Newman would go on to play A-level rep softball as a shortstop and left fieldsman, and minor hockey as a defenceman before moving up to centre.
While she was competing in a peewee rep hockey game, Newman was checked hard from behind into the boards behind her own net. Her injury was serious.
“Usually, I was the type of person that would keep pushing through pain, no matter how bad it was,” she said. “But in this case, I couldn’t even physically move to get up.”
Newman was taken by ambulance to the UBC sports clinic. A medical team found she had a stress fracture in her back, and the injury uncovered an undiagnosed condition in her spine called Scheuermann’s disease, which causes abnormal growth in the spine.
Doctors at the sports medicine clinic provided rehab and an exercise regiment that allowed her to continue competing both on the ice and on the field.
“We would do yoga, massage therapy and I had specific stretches that I had to do,” she said. “I would take ice baths after games if my back was sore and do hot and cold therapy to stimulate blood flow to the area.”
The routine enabled Newman to continue playing hockey through her high school years, and in her Grade 12 year, she played in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) for the B.C. Breakers. But unfortunately, back issues forced her to step away from the league after her first season.
“My trainers told me that if I continued playing, I could have complications later in life due to the injury,” she said. “I had heard those messages before, but hearing it from them made it sink in.”
Leaving the sport she loved behind was difficult. However, the athlete refocused on some of her other life goals.
“I realized I wanted to explore different things and see what life has to offer,” she said. “Travelling and experiencing the world and seeing things from a different perspective.”
Newman attended Kwantlen College for a year, assisted with a summer camp at a community summer camp in Richmond. In 2009, her former NWHL coach told her about a new sport called Crashed Ice.
Newman looked into the sport and discovered that it was an event sponsored by Red Bull where four competitors race downhill on an ice course wearing skates and hockey equipment. Excited by the prospect of competing in something so thrilling, Newman decided to apply, and she spent the next two seasons racing as a Red Bull athlete.
One of the highlights of her time as a racer was meeting Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) superstar Georges St-Pierre.
“He told me he was my biggest fan,” she said. “I wasn’t a big fan of the UFC so I didn’t know who he was, but all my guy friends were really excited about it.”
Newman didn’t qualify for a third season of Crashed Ice racing in 2012, which is the same year she met her partner Kendall Alexcee. She took a pause from athletics and spent time travelling, going on a month-long trip to Africa.
After returning to Canada, she continued her relationship with Alexcee and the two eventually moved to Prince Rupert, Alexcee’s home town.
On the North Coast, Newman has found a warm community and a thriving sports town. She coached midget hockey last season and is coaching several youth softball teams.
She said her most rewarding moments are watching her athletes learn and grow, doing things they never thought were possible. Teaching them they can break through their own limits makes her journey that much more fulfilling.
“What makes me proud is knowing that they have that ability to feel like that they can accomplish something,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing for me.”