Grinding through adversity, hockey is always top of mind for Jehan Jiwa

Jehan Jiwa, Grindstone Award Foundation vice president, continues to use hockey as a tool to help herself and others overcome life’s challenges.

Grinding through adversity, hockey is always top of mind for Jehan Jiwa

Feature photo: Jehan Jiwa

“Embrace the grind, trust the journey.”

These are the words used by Jehan Jiwa along a remarkable recovery.

They can also be applied to her trajectory through a career in professional soccer, around which she finds time to make sure that young girls who want to play the sport of hockey have the means to do so.

Working with the Grindstone Award Foundation in her role as vice president since 2021, Jiwa’s love of hockey started as a child who played the game before joining the group that financially assists young girls to play the sport.

But it was the aftermath of a car accident just over one  year ago that made hockey take on an even deeper meaning in Jiwa’s life.

“The first thing I asked when I was in the hospital was if my dad was okay. The next thing I asked was, ‘Will I be able to play hockey?’ They had never seen someone as close to death as a person can be still paranoid about playing hockey.   

“It is my everything. My ultimate goal is to play hockey again.”

During a drive home to Vancouver with her father from the family’s vacation home in Whistler, British Columbia, a car veered into their lane, leaving Jiwa and her father with no choice but to collide into the oncoming car. 

After the impact, Jiwa and her father stared at each other for 10 seconds. It is all she can remember of the accident.

Rescuers used the jaws of life to extract Jiwa and her father, who were then airlifted to different hospitals.

With a fracture in her femur, tibia, fibula, thumb and a pair of fingers, along with five fractured vertebrae, two liver lacerations, a collapsed lung, intestinal resection, a dislocated sternum and severe internal bleeding doctors feared Jiwa, who was put on life support, would not pull through.

She instead found a way to beat the odds and survive, with hockey being a source of inspiration throughout her ongoing recuperation and physiotherapy.

She was inspired by the words of Vancouver Canucks head coach, Rick Tocchet.

“When the Canucks had gone through a rough patch and were heading out on the road for three games, a reporter asked him, ‘What do you expect out of this road trip?’

“He said, ‘I’m not thinking about the road trip. I’m thinking about the first period of the first game and then we’ll look at the second period.’

“Having grown up in hockey, I took that attitude right from the moment I woke up in the ICU. I had these injuries to contend with, but I asked myself, ‘What can I do today?’”

Jiwa, in addition to her volunteer role on Grindstone’s board of directors, works with the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer in community and social impact. Though she is still on disability and not currently working for the Whitecaps, she hopes to go back if she is able.

The game of hockey remains a cornerstone in her life, including her work with Grindstone, which recently took the group to Roger’s Arena earlier this month for the Canucks’ Women’s Empowerment Night on March 9.

Established in March 2015, the Grindstone Award Foundation, based in British Columbia, provides grants annually to Canadian girls and women under the age of 19 who have a desire to play hockey but are unable to do so due to financial reasons.

Since awarding its first grant nine years ago to surpassing its 100th in 2020, Grindstone continues to be a difference-maker in growing youth female hockey across the country.

As does Jiwa.

“What really sticks out to me about Grindstone is that we get these applications and people share their notice of assessment so we can gauge their financial need, but they also share what hockey means to them.”

Many of the stories often leave Jiwa and others at a loss for words.

“I was expecting the answers to be something like, ‘I love hockey, please help me play.’ But there is so much depth to the answers they share with us. Sometimes, it’s that hockey is tied to their mental health and identity, and it’s where they find a place of belonging.

“It could be they have diabetes and hockey is how they stay healthy, or their parents are getting divorced, and hockey is an escape for them.

“Hockey means so much more than just a sport to these girls … it’s why I want to keep helping to grow this.”

NHLPA Goals & Dreams, which assists grassroots hockey programs around the world through equipment donations and financial support, has made several donations to Grindstone over the years. With more expected on the horizon, NHLPA G&D has donated 75 sets of brand new gear to the group dating back to 2020-21. Since 1999, NHLPA Goals & Dreams has donated over $26 million dollars worth of equipment across 35 countries to help over 90,000 children play the game of hockey.

“The NHLPA has been a huge supporter of ours and has helped make such a big difference,” said Jiwa.

“When you get an organization like the NHLPA saying, ‘We believe in you and we are going to support you,’ that is the ultimate endorsement for us.”  

Supporting others has long been a staple in Jiwa’s life.

After volunteering for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, she graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in Health Sciences.

She has also volunteered with the Hayley Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival, the Karina LeBlanc Foundation and the Esso Cup.

Fifteen months after the crash, Jiwa is still dealing with the after-effects of her injuries, but every day is a step forward, be it big or small.

Hockey, in her words, is her “North Star.”

“It has truly driven my recovery. That hockey mentality has allowed me to keep grinding.”

Going through something this traumatic has allowed Jiwa to find her true purpose of helping others navigate their own traumas and adversities. As she continues to heal, she is hoping to share her story with a larger audience through public speaking opportunities, where she can inspire others to keep grinding.

That goal is very much in character with the person who has spent a significant portion of her life inspiring and assisting others.

As always, her message is never self-serving.

“Adversity is adversity, no matter what the circumstance. When I speak with minor hockey teams, I will share with them that we will all go through adversity in our lifetime.

“We can’t control what happens, but we can control our mindset. Physical injuries heal, but a lot of that is controlled through what goes on between the ears.”  

Jiwa is hopeful those who hear her words will be empowered to chase their dreams, on and off the ice.

“There are so many opportunities for women, as athletes, but also in front-office roles and other careers in sport.

“Reach out, do more, volunteer, put up your hand, and let people know that you are capable of doing more. Don’t let others be afraid to see your true value and don’t let others’ opinion of you impact your opinion of yourself.

“Believe in what you are capable of and work hard.”

Jiwa is motivated by that mantra every day.

It’s why she views playing hockey again in terms of when, not if.

The thought of that moment helps her keep pushing forward.

In hockey parlance, what does the next period look like for Jiwa?

“I am at this point where everything is about recovering. I still have a lot of deficiencies and the long-term prognosis is that I am going to have some lifelong pain.

“But hockey players are nothing, if not stubborn. I’m just going to keep grinding away every day.”