3 min

Ya gotta have heart

She's been on the ice since 10*

Credit: Joshua Meles

Janice Jackson not only discovered her passions early in life, but learned to live by them. When she was 10, she joined the only girls hockey team in Richmond Hill in 1972 – an adult competitive team with women in their 20s.

Still, the 10-year-old held her own when women’s hockey was tough hockey – full body contact and no face masks.

In her teens, by her own accounts, Jackson became “every father’s worst nightmare.” She says she did not exactly come out; it was more like she was always out.

“It was handy being a girl. The girlfriends who came for sleepovers were my girlfriends,” says Jackson, 40, now an associate TV producer for HGTV. “It wasn’t like I was the only gay person in that small homophobic town, but I guess I was the only one people saw. One father tried to beat me up.”

When her folks realized it was “not a phase” and got testy about the sleepovers, Jackson moved out. At age 16, she got an apartment with a guy pal, a job and supported herself through high school. Then, at 17, she discovered rock and roll, drumming for the all-girl bands Zar, then Noveau Riche and, finally, the heavy metal Kovergirlz.

She spent eight years on the road, traveling across Canada, had a few flings (“I was 17 and hot to trot for everything”), then decided to put down roots. She did so in her own unique way. She went back to college, dated and settled down with her straight marketing instructor and legally adopted her partner’s daughter (Jackson wears number 92 on her sweater – her daughter’s birth year).

And she started her own lesbian hockey team, The Rainbow Rockets.

Jackson took the Rockets to the Amsterdam Games in 1998, spearheading a drive that fundraised $14,000. That was her first Gay Games, and she was hooked.

“The scale of the event just blew me away,” she says. “When we entered that stadium for the opening ceremonies, a lot of us just broke down and cried, seeing 50,000 people screaming and cheering. Then we walked into a wall of flashbulbs from the press and TV cameras. I was carrying the Canadian flag. It wasn’t like I was chosen to be the flag bearer or anything. I just happened to take the damn thing over. For the closing ceremonies, this little faggot body builder tried to take flag from me because he won a gold medal or something. I told him to bring his own fucking flag next time.”

The Rockets won silver, losing gold to the Dutch National Team, which represented the host country when no lesbian team came forward. “They were nasty chippy little shitheads too,” says Jackson. “Just like young blonde straight girls can be. But even though it was their home country and their officials, we had the whole stadium cheering for us.”

The silver and the effort would be a triumph in anyone’s books, but Jackson came away from the games bitterly disappointed. Coaching conflicts, complaints about ice time and nasty cliquiness, she says, not only cost the team the gold medal, but nearly ruined her experience of the games.

On the plane trip home, Jackson started plotting her strategy for the next Gay Games, coming up in November in Sydney, Australia.

“I loved the idea of the Rainbow Rockets, but this was not my idea of the team,” says Jackson. “I decided to take a year off, then start again, by hand picking players based on their personality. One of the first people we approached had never played competitive hockey before, but she had a great, fun personality.

“Now we’re stuck with this team. There’s no bickering, no back stabbing – it’s just the best group of people I’ve ever played with.”

Last year Jackson, who also plays softball and races stock cars, scored 52 points in 18 games to lead the team, which finished atop the Toronto Ice Breakers League, a competitive C women’s league. After going without a loss, the Rockets advocated strengthening the league; this year, they sit mid pack in the standings.

To prepare for the games, the team is playing in a summer league, and doing some serious fundraising. Says Jackson: “I don’t want anyone to miss out on this experience because of money.”

One of the most active teams on the fundraising front, the Rockets are gunning to raise $25,000 of the $60,000 it will cost to send the team to Sydney. They ran a Pride Day barbecue outside Reither’s Fine Food, played an annual fundraising match against the men’s gay team and host monthly dances at the Winchester Pub.

As for the Rocket’s success in Sydney, Jackson believes it’s already in the bag.

“The last team was stronger and more serious about winning. This team’s more serious about having a good time, but I don’t begrudge that. We’re good friends. We’re going to do some serious South Pacific travel. But when we step on the ice, we’ll be together. I believe we’ll have more heart than any other team there.”

* This is the second in a series of profiles of Gay Games athletes.