Lisa Moralejo may be in the middle of the desert, but inside a mall is where she takes comfort in Canada’s number one sport—hockey. On one of the two indoor hockey rinks, the University of Calgary–Qatar nursing instructor pushes her boundaries, and possibly those of her teammates and opponents, by playing on a men’s hockey team. She’s the third woman to play in the Qatar International Ice Hockey League.
Tell us about your decision to join the QIIHL.
Before I moved to Doha, I played hockey for five years in Burnaby, B.C. I thought it would be a great way to cope with being away from all things Canadian. I plan to rejoin my team when I go back and was afraid they would get too good for me if I didn’t keep up.
It took me almost a year to get the nerve to play with the men and deciding to join came with some questions. I didn’t know how accepting the men would be in allowing me to play. I wondered if I would be good enough to play in the league, if they’d be too rough, and how many bruises I’d walk away with.
What has been the response from the league, your teammates and the community?
Everyone has been absolutely positive and welcoming. Everyone treats me as part of the team (albeit, one of the less talented players!). Some notice when I walk through the mall with my gear and I occasionally get nods from westerners—even local men and women. I’d say for the most part people haven’t reacted in a surprising fashion. Qatar isn’t restrictive like some parts of the Middle East where women aren’t permitted to play sports publicly. It’s quite acceptable here and you see people from all walks of life doing some form of exercise. On the ice, the men aren’t rough and sometimes—if they realize who I am—they treat me a bit more gently. Honestly, I don’t think I’m treated differently.
How does the men’s league compare to the women’s?
There’s no women’s change room so I gear up in the washroom. It can feel isolating because I’m used to talking about the game or taking part in the social banter typical of locker rooms. But I put my skates on with the rest of the team so I do get some interaction before we play. Also, naturally the men are tougher than me. I’m much more intimidated about forcing a play and if I run into them, I tend to fall down hard. The level of play is faster and more aggressive but it has helped bring my game up a bit.
Has hockey helped you adapt to life in a foreign land?
It’s an amazing bonus to be able to play hockey in the Middle East. Playing hockey provides a normal perspective on life. It does feel like home when I’m on the ice despite playing with men and hearing the call to prayer. What I really enjoy is everything else fades into the background—life, work, the challenges in Qatar, students and being away from home. Nothing else really matters except trying to make some good plays and getting the puck in the back of the net!
I have to say, the encouragement and acceptance I’ve received throughout the season has been amazing. I can’t wait to play again in the fall.