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World Cup 2019 - The Experience of a Lifetime

Jenna Hellstrom has experienced a lot over the course of her very impressive soccer career, to date.

Nothing would compare to World Cup - 2019.

"Even though I didn't step on the field, I've never felt the way I felt after that loss," said the 24 year-old Sudbury native, referring to the 1-0 setback that Team Canada suffered against Sweden, eliminating Hellstrom and her mates from the prestigious tournament in France in the round of sixteen.

"When you have the whole country behind you, it's not just a school, it's a country, and everything that goes along with it. That's such a big difference. The loss is disappointing for yourself, for your team, but also for your whole country."

Such is the dichotomy of emotion that the former Kent State University star would have experienced over the course of these past few months. The elation of being named to a national team, on the largest of stages, offset against an exit they all felt came far too early, and in the case of Hellstrom and several others, not truly being able to affect the outcome, when you've not yet cracked the top-15 or so who actually see playing time.

"Whether you step on the field or not, you have your role and you have to accept it," said Hellstrom. "Honestly, every single player that is there wants to step on the field. Sometimes, the reality is that it just doesn't happen, and you can't let that affect you."

At 24 years of age, the young woman who now returns to her professional club soccer team in Sweden (KIF Orebro DFF) finds herself smack dab in the middle of the age gammut of players on the 23-athlete roster that donned the maple leaf last month.

"Now that I have one under my belt, that's experience, and hopefully for the next one, my role will be different," said Hellstrom. "I've never been at a tournament like this before. Obviously just being there is an amazing accomplishment, but I'm still hungry for more."

For as much as she wanted to enjoy the experience, Hellstrom must also learn from it, identifying the attributes that she must continue to refine in order to move just a few more ranks up the pecking order, looking to slide in as the likes of Christine Sinclair and others inevitably pass the torch.

"I think the big thing with the women's game is that if you have speed, it kills," said Hellstrom. "You don't have to be the best player with the ball, but if you can get behind the back line, you're extremely dangerous in the women's game."

"I have the speed, so now it's a matter of working on the things I need to be better at. And it's not just having that speed, but also being that fast with the ball at my feet."

A high school sprint champion during her time at Lasalle Secondary School, Hellstrom has not yet reached her peak. "I know in the past few years, I've gotten even quicker," she said. "I am more knowledgeable now about why I am so fast, so I understand better how to maintain it, how to remain an explosive player."

Yet as much as she must look forward, Hellstrom doesn't want to forget to take the time to cherish the moment, the memories of a lifetime. "There's no words that I can put together that would explain the exact feeling of being there," she said.

"We were very lucky to compete in a World Cup in a European country. That's where soccer is the biggest. No matter what team you were with, they respected you so much. The stadiums were packed, and not just when France and other teams from Europe played."

"There was a lot of Canadian fans there, which was great to see," she added. "When we played Holland, all you saw was orange, but there were more Canadian fans than I expected to be there."

Returning to northern Ontario for a few short weeks before re-joining her team in Sweden, Hellstrom was still dealing with the whirlwind of attention that has come her way. "It's something I need to get used to," she said. "It's never happened for me before."

"Sometimes, it is overwhelming. Obviously you enjoy it, you like having the support of the whole city behind you, but at the same time, you may need to take a step back and say no to people. If you say yes to everybody, you will never have any time for yourself or your family."

Beyond the physical exhaustion of the workout and travel requirements that coincide with representing the nation, there is a mental toll that needs to be managed. It's not something that Hellstrom has mastered, just yet, though a very healthy balance is apparent.

"As a high level athlete, you're never really satisfied," she said. "I'm obviously grateful and happy about the opportunity, but I'm not done yet." An athlete who has dealt with the frailty of confidence, most notably early during the time of her NCAA career in Ohio, Hellstrom has clearly matured, prone to a great deal more insightful introspective at this point in her life.

"People think we have all of the confidence in the world, but that's just not true," she conceded. "When you're at that level, it's hard with the pressure, playing with the best girls in Canada. You may not be one of the best ones, and you have to understand that."

The wonderful compensator, for Hellstrom, has always been her unrelenting drive to succeed. It's a self-motivation that has been noted time and time again by her coaches, dating back to so many of those who worked hand in hand with the up and coming sensation during her teenage years in Sudbury.

It's a passion that is not likely to subside, as Hellstrom looks to a possible move come the end of her contract in October. "The Swedish league is a great league, top three or four in the world," she said.

"I've done well with this club. If I do get the opportunity, I can see myself going elsewhere, but I do enjoy Sweden, I really like my club."

Wherever she may land, come late 2019, Hellstrom knows that her next big challenge lies in trying to crack the Canadian roster that will compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Where 23 women earned the honour for the World Cup, the Olympics require a downsizing to just eighteen.

And if Jenna Hellstrom is among that group, she might yet have an experience that can compare to that of a World Cup.

Palladino Subaru