"I knew that I had to step away a little bit."
Spending the bulk of her youth in Sudbury, Rachel Leck was a mainstay, both within her Sudbury Canadians soccer team of the time, but also in the local sports scene, in general.
A Rainbow Board track champion and NOSSA cross-country gold medal winner, Leck would put her speed and endurance to good use in her primary pursuit, drawing plenty of attention as a top-end attacker on the soccer pitch.
Still, this was but part of the puzzle in the life of the young woman blessed with a great deal of natural athleticism.
"While I am an athlete and that's always been a big component of my life, I am also very religious and have strong faith," said Leck. "I was trying to figure out that aspect too. So I thought why not give myself a year, maybe two years, at bible college to really figure out what I believe in."
Rewind, momentarily. Having moved from Sudbury to Pickering prior to her grade 11 school year, Leck had continued to prosper in soccer circles in southern Ontario, drawing attention from Canadian universities.
Moving on to the post-secondary ranks was the plan - until it wasn't.
"I had poured a lot of my energy, growing up, into my soccer, and I really needed to know who I was when I don't have soccer," said Leck. "I felt that I was a little burned out. I took a year and a half, two years off."
It's certainly possible that most who knew of her talent would have expected that her time at Master's College and Seminary in Peterborough would mark the end of her soccer dreams. "We did some intramurals - volleyball, basketball, a little soccer - but I really didn't play much at all, and certainly there was no training."
A healthy lifestyle, however, would pay dividends in late 2016, when Leck decided to cold call Ness Timmins, women's soccer coach with the Cape Breton Capers, and one of a handful of folks who had expressed an interest in recruiting the soccer prospect a few years earlier.
"It was really interesting for me to just not be so heavily involved in sports, to kind of take a step back - but I knew that I was missing it," stated Leck. "I had a great experience with soccer growing up, teaching me a lot of lessons, giving me a chance to travel - but I thought that there was still a little bit more that I can do with this."
The start of the winter of 2019-2020 would mark the end of Leck's third season with the Capers. Despite earning a starting assignment in only three of her team's dozen outings in her freshman season (2017-2018), the former OFSAA rep with Lockerby Composite would find the back of the net four times, matching that goal total again the following year.
Netting the game-winning goal in the bronze medal encounter at nationals in 2018, Leck returned even more determined to make a difference last fall, finishing with six goals, second best on her team.
Still just 23 years old, Leck had come of age, both as an athlete, and as a person of faith.
"I had a little bit of growing up to do before I made the move out to the Atlantic provinces - I knew that of myself," she said. "When I went, I was ready for a new experience."
When she decided to return to soccer, commitment was never an issue.
"When I decided to go back, I went full out into it, training, joining a league," said Leck. "When I asked Ness if he would take a chance on me, I said that I was willing to put in the work. I was surprised at how quickly the muscle memory returned when I starting playing again and training."
"It was very nerve-wracking, going in, because I had been off," she added. "Luckily, I had kept my speed and my athleticism, so it really was a matter of finding my fit, my place within the team, where I could be an asset."
To her credit, Leck has noticed that the off-field maturity that comes with age has also signified a maturing of her game on the pitch. "I think I've learned to fit more into our team game play now," she said.
"Growing up, I always used speed as an asset, but now I think it's a matter of being smarter with the speed. I have grown in knowing when it's a better time to go on a run, or try and make a certain play."
"But I still take risks all the time," she added with a laugh.
With just one year remaining towards her Business degree and the 2020 AUS fall soccer campaign already cancelled due to the pandemic, Leck has drawn on the full scope of her life experiences in order to help maintain a solid perspective.
"There are a lot bigger things than missing varsity sports," she said. "I think as varsity athletes, we are expected to be leaders, on and off the field. As much as it was disappointing that our season got cancelled, we had to be mature about it and realize that there is a lot more going on."
"This really has broadened my faith, helping me understand how to apply my faith in a different setting. With the pandemic and everything, coming home gave me time to slow down and really reflect."
"If anything, this has helped me remain healthy in all areas of my life: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually; to become a little more well-rounded and balanced."
"It's helped me find peace within the storm."