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Janine Beckie: A rose among the Thorns

The Olympic gold medal-winning forward opens up about her football journey and what it means to play for her country.

Janine Beckie standing on a soccer field, clapping, wearing an Olympic gold medal.
Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Getty Images

Janine Beckie has a biblical verse tattooed on the inside of her left wrist. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength,” declares Isaiah 40:31. “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will talk and not be faint.”

The 28-year-old is a committed Christian who’s used her faith to guide her prolific athletic career – one that’s been filled with new cities, glittering achievements and memories so vivid it’s impossible to ignore her passion for the beautiful game.

“I’m extremely humbled and lucky to have shining moments in my football career. But being raised through faith has got me there. It’s taught me to believe in something greater than myself and helped me to stay calm in new situations or high-level games,” says Beckie.

Although the feisty forward has played around the globe and racked up some serious hardware, the path to success wasn’t always so clear cut.

“I’m the youngest of four, and all of my older siblings were active, competitive, and played every sport you could imagine. Both of my parents were basketball players, so I’m sure there might have been some bias for me to play hoop, so I did,” Beckie recalls. “But I also ran track in high school before I went to play college football. Really, I wasn’t focused on football until I was a bit older, which is unusual in the scheme of things but it worked for me.”

Beckie began her football career at Texas Tech University, where she became the first Raider to win the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. She was also named to the All-Big 12 first team for four consecutive years.

“I chose to go to Texas Tech because it wasn’t on the map like Stanford for example. I knew I’d get on the field right away as a freshman. So for four years I played a significant amount of minutes, I was scoring goals, and I was growing my confidence,” Beckie explains.

Immediately after college, Beckie was drafted to the Houston Dash before being transferred to Manchester City in 2018, which she calls a “transformative experience.”

“Being at Manchester City and seeing Pep Guardiola and the rest of the men’s team work was insane. He is one of the best football minds in the world, and it was so fascinating to see him trying out different player combinations and new systems,” she says.

“And that’s what I love about football. That there’s almost endless combinations and styles to try. I find it incredible how certain players work well together while others don’t. It’s beautiful and so intellectual,” Beckie adds.

The Colorado-native remained with the Blues until earlier this year, where she signed a three-year deal with the Portland Thorns to bring her back to the NWSL.

“I like to try new things and play for different teams with new people. But it’s interesting because my first ever national team camp for Canada was in Portland, so it feels like a full-circle moment,” says Beckie.

A dual citizen of both the United States and Canada, Beckie began her international career by working through the U.S. youth system. During this time, the forward received a call to attend a training camp with the U-20 Canadian national team, which was an unexpected development in her career.

“At first I was uncertain. I’d never thought about playing for Canada. But the coach at the time said there were no strings attached, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” she recalls. “I ended up loving the players and the team culture. I realized that Canada is where I belong.”

The next summer, Beckie played in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Despite not advancing past the knockout stages, she caught the attention of John Herdman, the current head coach of the Canadian men’s national team.

“John scouted me, got to see me play, and after that he wanted to cap me with the women’s senior team. The rest is history,” she says.

Since donning the red and white for the women’s senior team in November 2014, Beckie has been at the heart of Canada’s attack and is undoubtedly one of the squad’s most passionate and consistent players.

However, in spite of her success as a Canadian athlete, her first game for the maples was filled with nerves.

“The first game I played with the senior team was against Sweden. I went on at half time and I thought ‘don’t screw up,’ which was probably the worst thing to be telling myself,” says Beckie. “I remember we got a free kick and my coach wanted me to take it, which was surreal and something I did not feel qualified for. We hit the crossbar but didn’t lose the game, it ended up 0-0. Perhaps we should have won it.”

Although her Canadian career got off to a rocky start, Beckie and the rest of the squad quickly rose to new heights and eventually sealed one of the most coveted trophies in the women’s game – an Olympic gold medal.

On a scorching summer day in Tokyo, Canada defeated Sweden 3-2 in a penalty shootout to capture the gold. But instead of elation, Beckie felt an overwhelming sense of relief once the final whistle blew.

“It was a long tournament. Lots of games in a short amount of time, and we were all exhausted. Keep in mind this was in the middle of the pandemic, so we’re isolated in our team bubble and hadn’t seen our families in forever,” Beckie explains. “There were times during the match where I thought for sure we’ll win, and other times for sure we’ll lose. I knew the whole country was watching at home and we just wanted to make them proud. It was a relief that we pulled it off.”

Trophies aside, what surprised Beckie the most about the Olympic experience wasn’t the schedule or the emotions, but the accommodations.

“It’s so funny because everyone thinks the athletes stay in these beautiful hotels and use top-notch facilities, but that’s not the case at all. It’s regular rooms, we eat in cafeterias with the rest of the athletes, and our meeting room was this fully cemented square box with a projector and folding chairs,” says Beckie. “It seems unexpected, but that’s how it was.”

Similarly, the striker also revealed how “normal” the squad’s pre-game routine was for the gold medal match.

“On the day of the match everyone probably thought that we’re all serious with our headphones in, but it’s not true. We were more focused on finding good food! We couldn’t make the situation bigger than what it was, so we just kept our normal routine and tried not to think too hard about it. Obviously we looked at our game plan, but it was more about eating and sleeping.”

While Beckie still hopes to play for “a few more years,” her focus is shifting away from her football career towards developing and mentoring young athletes.

She’s also hard at work to bring the women’s professional game to Canada, so people “and young girls especially” can sit in stadiums every week “to see their idols play.”

“I want people to see that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can make your dreams a reality, especially in sport,” Beckie says. “It’s really special to feel like you are inspired by something. Inspiration can be really hard to find sometimes, especially in the society we live in, so if our team can be a source of inspiration for someone, that’s special.”

When Beckie reflects on her football career, it’s not the new friends or trophies that she will remember forever. Instead, it’s her immense pride to represent Canada at the highest level.

“It’s an honour and a privilege. I take playing for Canada very seriously and I feel an obligation to leave the sport in a better way than I’ve come into it,” explains Beckie. “When I put the red and white jersey on, I feel a sense of community, love and support for this great country and I don’t take that for granted.”