Letters of Intent
Edmonton second baseman Luchanski training hard for Pan Am Games in July
By Danny Gallagher
Nicole Luchanski faced a challenge a few weeks ago: continue working full-time or train full-time for the Pan Am Games women’s baseball tournament set for the Toronto suburb of Ajax at the end of July.
As a forestry major out of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the second baseman for Team Canada had been employed by Interfor in Campbell River, B.C. as an assistant logging engineer, working on site for the company but also doing field work and camp shifts all over northern B.C. It was a job she loved.
On the other hand, the long-time national team member wanted to spend more time getting ready for Ajax so she decided to leave her job and return to her parents’ home in Edmonton. That was the middle of January. There was a financial incentive to leave Interfor.
“CIBC is the title sponsor of the Pan Am Games and they selected 67 athletes to sponsor for three years,’’ Luchanski explained on the phone to this writer. “I was chosen as the representative for baseball and their support has definitely helped me realize this goal of training full time. Just another example of the perks of being in a major multi-sport event and why it’s such an exciting time for women’s baseball.’’
Isn’t that neat? A gal getting to be chosen as the baseball representative for her country after being nominated by Baseball Canada. Quite a CIBC Team Next honour indeed for a bit of an underdog, who admits that at 5-foot-4, she has to drive more to keep up with opposition players, who are generally taller and threw harder.”
“I’m a lot smaller than most of the players. I was so honoured when I was selected,’’ Luchanski said. “I was nominated with four of my teammates, who are all very talented and dedicated, so it was really special to be chosen. I was chosen from all of baseball in Canada so that was pretty neat.
“This is my second year of funding. The program was designed to cover the year before Pan Ams, the year of Pan Ams, and the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. The selection focused on athletes who aren’t famous, don’t have a lot of funding otherwise, or are just starting their international careers. So a lot of their energy has gone into helping us understand the amateur athlete funding game, how to build our brand and find other supporters.
“This has been really helpful for someone who never imagined they could get sponsorship. And it has in fact helped me land another awesome deal with Easton Baseball, where they are providing me with their newest, top of the line gear.’’
Luchanski receives $15,000 over three years from CIBC, getting cheques of $2,500 twice per year. She also receives other perks, too, such as advice from a stable of mentors including Simon Whitfield, Josh Cassidy, Mark de Jonge, Stephanie Dixon, Kara Lang, Kyle Shewfelt, Mary Spencer and Bruny Surin. Luchanski also gets to participate in annual workshops and gets advice on personal finances, post-secondary and career planning, sport leadership skills, media training and public speaking. So when it got around to talking to me, she knew how to play the interview game with more ease.
CIBC designed the CIBC Team Next program in partnership with AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, and the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario to create a lasting sports legacy in Canada.
“The coolest thing about the Team Next program is that they bring us all together once a year in Toronto for a forum. We get to do workshops with all the other athletes and spend time with our mentors,’’ Luchanski said. “There is lots of Q & A time with all the mentors and guided panels, where they give some really interesting insight on training, competing, playing in a home games, dealing with the media, and promoting their brand.
“I’ve heard some great things I wouldn’t have thought of from listening to someone who’s been there before. That’s the great thing about the mentorship program, you can learn from their mistakes without having to commit them yourself, and from their successes without having achieved them yet. My mentor is former women’s soccer Olympian Kara Lang. We don’t live close enough to see each other in person, so the forums are a great time to discuss a lot of things face to face.
“For the rest of the year we stay in touch over email, and it’s great to just have someone who has been there before and answer your questions and give you their advice. For example, when you’re trying to build your athletic brand and grow a social media following, who better to have critique you than an Olympian with 14,500 Twitter followers!’’
So what does an average day pan out for Luchanski when it comes to training?
She gets up, undergoes physio treatments, swims a bit, gets involved in yoga, does some errands, squats, sprints, takes grounders and does a lot of hitting. Somewhere in between all of those activities, she has a snack. And she does that for six days a week, six to seven hours per day, taking Sundays off.
Over the years, Luchanski earned the Golden Spikes Award given to the most outstanding player in grade 12 at St. Francis Xavier high school in Edmonton and played three years of men’s travel baseball in Edmonton at second base for coaches Jonathon Lee and Rod Scammell.
As an added bonus, her exceptional talents allowed her to participate in six national championships as a member of Alberta female baseball provincial teams. Luchanski was first selected to the Canadian women’s national team in 2006 and subsequently played in World Cup events in Taiwan and Japan (twice), Venezuela and her home town of Edmonton.
“It was quite a thrill when the World Cup came to Edmonton in 2004 but I wasn’t on the team,’’ Luchanski said. “It had already been in Edmonton so I didn’t think we’d get it again for a while so when we got it and I was on the team, it was so cool.’’
Along the way, Luchanski had a hand at softball because she was curious about it. She was a walk-on at Oregon State University but it was more than she bargained for. In most cases, she was a pinch runner and played a few defensive innings late in the game.
“I’d played baseball my whole life and I decided to try softball. The defence was doable. It was really hard the hitting,’’ Luchanski said. “I had to adjust to the underhanded pitching and the size of the field.’’
With that experience behind her, Luchanski returned to baseball. And here she is focused on Ajax and ready to help make it work for Canada even though she admits that her role on the team isn’t quite cemented.
“The team is remade every year,’’ she said. “Even the top 30 And here she is focused on Ajax and ready to help make it work for Canada even though she admits that her role on the team isn’t quite cemented. haven’t been selected but my chances are good that I will make the team.”
From May 10-17 in Toronto, the coaching staff will have the opportunity to evaluate 30 players during the team’s final selection camp. From there, 18 players will be selected to represent Canada at the Pan Am Games where women’s baseball will be part of the sport program for the first time ever.
Long-time women’s team manager André Lachance would return it was announced on Jan. 26. Along with Lachane, pitching coach Christian Chenard and assistant coach Samantha Magalas. After a one-year hiatus, Jean-Francois Lacroix will return as bench coach, while Sheen Bromley joins the coaching staff as an assistant coach. Rounding out the group are long-time business manager Penny Fitzsimmons and athletic therapist
The same day, Luchanski tweeted: “Today’s motivation: it’s exactly 6 months until the @TO2015 women’s baseball gold medal game! Sunday, July 26, 2015 @ 12:00 p.m.’’.
Said Luchanski: “There is no baseball in the Olympics so this is our Olympics. I see us and the U.S. in the final. Japan and Australia are very strong teams but they are not in the Pan Am Games. This involves teams from North, Central and South America. After the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela are impressive. Our national men’s team is defending their Pan Am title in Ajax and we are making our debut so it will be fantastic.’’
Leading off, the right-handed hitting Luchanski will be trying her darndest to get on base, setting the table for the rest of the lineup.
“I’ve been the leadoff hitter for a coupla years. I definitely value walks, getting hit by a pitch or dragging a bunt,’’ she said.
Luchanski will utilize her skills Feb. 14-21 in Havana, Cuba where she will be a guest coach at a national team training camp mostly intended for bantam-aged girls. No doubt, she will be showing the younger girls the art of the drag bunt and many other tips that come from a veteran like her.