Young, fierce and determined, Alanna Mah’s path to Canada’s national
women’s para hockey team was a direct one.
At just six months old, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Doctors found
a tumour around her spinal cord. While she fought the cancer and won, her
battle left her with an incomplete spinal injury that impairs the full use
of her legs.
That had little effect on Mah’s athletic career, though; she played
multiple sports growing up through the Paralympic Sports Association in her
hometown of Edmonton. Having grown up watching hockey with her family, Mah
seized the opportunity to try para hockey as soon as she could.
“I knew that para hockey existed,” Mah says. “But I didn't really know much
about it. So, I just went out to one of their practices and they let me
give it a go and [I] fell in love with it.”
From there, Mah trained and practiced with the co-ed Edmonton Impact of the
Edmonton Sled Hockey Club. When she reached eligibility at age 14, she
attended an open tryout for the national team and made it.
“When I joined para hockey at nine [years old], I was the only girl on my
team. I didn't really know of any girls playing in the province or in
Canada. So, when I made the women's national team at 14, that was my first
exposure to even knowing that there was a women's team.”
Eight years later, Mah and her national team teammates want to change that
narrative. Through grants from the Hockey Canada Foundation, the women’s
team runs a grassroots development program, hosting ’try-it‘ events for
young girls across Canada in conjunction with its national training camps.
“I think it's super important to have girls see that there's an opportunity
to play in an all-female environment, playing this game,” explains Mah.
“Immersing them in that environment with us national players as mentors and
coaches showing them, ‘This is where you can go. We're here, we exist.’ It
gives them someone to look up to.”
While the 22-year-old forward’s passion is in growing the women’s game, Mah
relishes the opportunity to compete on the co-ed side, playing for Team
Alberta—the four-time national para hockey champions—alongside a few
members of Canada’s National Para Hockey Team, Cody Dolan and Adam
“I love the physical side of it,” Mah says of playing full-contact para
hockey at the highest level. “It's one of my favorite parts of playing the
game. I am on the smaller side, so sometimes it can be a little scary, but
they don't treat me any differently out there. Everyone’s on the same
playing field and they don't really even see that I'm a girl, they just see
me as a player.”
With the Impact (with whom she both coaches and plays) and Team Alberta,
Mah trains daily and is on the ice twice a week, balancing para hockey with
full-time kinesiology studies at the University of Edmonton.
Her drive does not go unnoticed, with Derek Whitson, an assistant with the
women’s national team and former Paralympian, noting, “I've been a teammate
of hers through Team Alberta, and I've also been her coach for eight years
and it is amazing [to see] the discipline and the work that she's been able
to put in over two years to really step her game up.
Through a rebuilding year, she is definitely one of the leaders of her team
now and she really is stepping up to the task. She's got this fun
personality that isn't your typical leadership, but it really brings out
the best in her and the team, because she keeps it light and keeps it fun
Whitson and head coach Tara Chisholm are preparing for an invitational
national selection camp in Yellowknife, N.W.T., on April 24-May 1 before
regional camps through June and July and finally a national team camp in
Calgary, July 27-31, 2022.
The team is prepping for the 2022 Women's World Challenge, tentatively
slated for the fall.
“It's exciting for our women, because this is one of the biggest, if not
the biggest, world events that they've actually been able to pursue.” says
Whitson. “This is a big opportunity to showcase what our women have been
training for all these years and [representing] Canada, we have
expectations with a gold standard to be on top at the end.”
While para hockey is a co-ed sport, just three women have ever competed at
the Paralympic level, including China’s Yu Jing, who competed earlier this
month at the 2022 Games. The goal for Mah and Women’s Para Hockey of Canada
– the group that oversees the development of the women’s game across the
country – is to see the inclusion of women’s para hockey in the
Paralympics, but a lack of equitable international competition is a major
barrier in that push.
While Whitson and Chisholm have dedicated their efforts to international
development, awareness and participation domestically is still a priority
for Mah and her national teammates.
It’s a labour of love for Mah, whose life has been shaped by the game.
“The environment and the people, you can't beat it. It’s just like a
“I think in any kind of sport, most people would feel that way, but
especially being a female with a disability in sport, I think finding that
group of people where you can really just relate to, and everyone
understands you and gets you is just something that is unmatched.”