Club: RDC Queens Club, AB, Canada
Post-Secondary: University of Montana
Professional: 2012-2013: Le Cannet, France, 2013-2014: Robur Tiboni Urbino, Italy, 2014-2015: SK Bank Legionovia Legionowa, Poland, 2015-2016: Unendo Yamamay Busto Arsizio, Italy Current: Jakarta BNI Taplus
National Team Member from 2009-2016
Career Highlights: Pan Am Cup 2013 Best Blocker, 2011 University of Montana Female Athlete of the Year and record holder for most career blocks.
All elite athletes will find themselves at a crossroads when nearing the end of their careers. Some, are forced into retirement, whether by career ending injuries or age, and others face a choice. Sometimes this choice can be the toughest part. When you dedicate your whole life to something, it rarely will feel right or normal to stop, especially when you still have the ability to compete.
After competing in some of the most prestigious leagues in Europe, and pouring her heart and soul into a four year Olympic push for Rio 2016, Jaimie Thibeault decided to take a step back from the game. In a sport like volleyball, where goals are Olympic focused, athletes live their lives in “quads”. Everything you work for is based on that ultimate goal at the end of every four years, the Olympics. Sometimes, as was the case for our women’s National team last January, Olympic dreams can all come down to one match. A devastating loss to Puerto Rico, a team the Canadians have beaten in the past, ended those Olympic dreams for the women’s team in 2016.
“I had never felt that kind of heartbreak before. And it was that moment and the months to follow that I realized I had lost the passion and love for the game. I was still grieving.”
Jaimie headed back to Italy to finish out the rest of her season, but things weren’t the same. It was then she made the decision to take the summer off, and ultimately to retire alongside her fiancé, Dallas Soonias, when he was forced into retirement by injury before the men’s team headed to Rio. She started a new life in the “real world”, moving into an apartment in Calgary and taking a teaching job. Jaimie was helping out with Mount Royal University volleyball program, but she still felt unsettled.
“Everything was happening so quickly, and each time I thought back to volleyball, I had a sour taste in my mouth. A stone that I had left unturned. I felt like I didn't leave the game how I had hoped.”
An opportunity came knocking in December, and Jaimie jumped at the chance to get back on the court. She wanted to take this chance to celebrate the last of her career before retirement. Much different than the European experience, she decided to lace up her shoes for one last season in Indonesia. “In Asia, basically all the pressure is on the foreigners. When I arrived with the other foreigners on my team, the coach introduced us as their stars. You are treated like a celebrity.” In a warm country, with a competitive team and a short season, what an amazing opportunity for one last hurrah before hanging it up for good.
Jaimie didn’t always know that Professional Volleyball and National Team opportunities were in her future. In fact, they always felt like far away dreams to her. With a lot going on at home during her Grade 6 year, she was guided by her Vice Principal away from the negative path she was headed, and was shown a different path through athletics. Putting everything into sports, Jaimie excelled in the gym and volleyball was a perfect outlet to keep her out of trouble. She took advantage of an opportunity to move to Red Deer in Grade 8, where she excelled on the volleyball court and was eventually pursued for Scholarships from both Canadian and American Universities. Her own personal experiences led her to want to give back to other kids through sport.
Inspired by Dallas, who has been going around for many years to different First Nations as a Motivational Speaker, Jaimie decided to get involved and try to help make a difference. They are both Neechie Gear role models, a company created by Kendal Netmaker, a close family friend of Dallas. The mission of this company is to empower youth through sports, with 5% of all net profits going towards helping kids get involved in sport. This program has brought them to different First Nations throughout some of the most remote areas of Canada, where they speak with kids about bettering their lives and the possibilities in front of them. They usually finish with running clinics to teach fundamental volleyball skills. It can be a very challenging experience, as some places are not fortunate enough to have the benefits of gym space, courts, nets or even balls, but Jaimie and Dallas always leave wanting to help even more.
“Honestly, it’s extremely empowering. For me, it’s an overwhelming yet joyous experience. Dallas and I go in whole heartily each time hoping to affect some of these kids in a positive way, to help them desire and want to better their lives. We try to show them the path, show that there are opportunities, and that they can do it.”
Dallas is both Cree and Ojibway, his mother is from Cape Croker First Nation, where he is registered, and his father is from Red Pheasant First Nations in Saskatchewan. Jaimie, is Coast Salish and she is registered at T’souke First Nations, on Vancouver Island.