OTTAWA - A mainstay on the Women’s National Team since 2006, Nicole Luchanski is retiring from the sport she has poured her heart-and-soul into since she was a young girl in her hometown of Edmonton.
Luchanksi, who will turn 29 on December 20th, retires as one of the most decorated athletes in women’s baseball having helped Canada win five Women’s Baseball World Cup medals (two silver, three bronze) and a silver medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
“(Retiring) was a very, very hard decision,” said Luchanski who first considered the move away from baseball two years ago. “I considered the (World Cup) cycles and for how many more seasons I thought I could excel at the highest level. I think I would have had another 6-8 years before my body couldn’t perform, and that’s what made the decision so hard, but I had to weigh many other factors in my life.”
With a career in the forestry industry already underway, Luchanski looked at the pros and cons of retirement and measured them with her life goals and aspirations before arriving at her final decision.
“In the end, I didn’t want to stop competing, and being there at the highest level,” said the two-time Women’s National Team MVP. “But I knew that for all the training time and dedication it takes to get to these (proportionally small) moments, I wanted to use that time on other ventures.”
When longtime Women’s National Team Manager André Lachance first saw a 16-year-old Luchanski as a member of the Alberta entry at the Senior Women’s Invitational in 2006, he knew immediately that he wanted her on the national team.
“Her speed, aggressiveness and compete level are what drew me to ‘Luch' right away,” recalls Lachance. “She is everything that you look for in a leadoff hitter and she played her role on both sides of the baseball extremely well.
“It was easy to write her name on the lineup card each day because you knew that she would come to play and compete at a high level.”
Being named to the Women’s National Team for the first time and having the chance to represent her country in her hometown of Edmonton during the World Cup in 2012 are two memories that she will look back on.
“After thinking about almost nothing else for two years and spending every spare moment working towards it- hearing my name called (in 2006) is still one of the purest moments of happiness in my life,” explained Luchanski.
And in front of sold-out stadiums in Edmonton with close family and friends looking on, Luchanski got to experience something that not all athletes get the chance to do.
“I couldn’t believe I would actually be one of the very small fraction of players who get to compete in front of their hometown. All of my family came, and my local baseball teammates and connections, and my new forestry friends, starting “Luuuuuuuuuuch” chants. I’ll always remember the announcers saying, “now batting, the second baseman #5, EDMONTON’S OWN…”
The Pan Am Games in 2015, being part of a major, multi-sport games and being able to share that experience with family are memories that also stand out.
“I batted in the go ahead runs against Puerto Rico and once standing on second base, somehow out of 5,000+ people, seeing my parents in the crowd visibly losing it was special.”
Through her time on the national team and from playing the sport she loves since she was a child, Luchanski has witnessed a change in how she and her teammates have been treated at events and overall the perception of women’s baseball.
“For the record, there is still a long way to go, but there have been many positive changes since the 2006 World Cup,” she said. “All World Cups since have focused much less on making women a spectacle and just on the baseball.
“The general advancement of social media has allowed players and builders of women’s baseball to share our game much more easily. To be able to actually share footage and stories is one of the coolest advancements we’ve had.”
Being the only female on teams growing up and competing in a sport dominated by males are two of the things that Luchanski says made the bond between her and her national team teammates so unique and special.
“You may think you’re alone standing up for what you believe in and slaving away for it but it was a soul enriching experience to finally meet everyone else across the country in my shoes,” she explained. “What a great sisterhood we have that really understands each other’s battles.”
It’s that sisterhood and camaraderie with teammates and individuals she has come across through playing baseball that Luchanski will miss the most now that her playing days are done.
“(I’ll miss) just competing with the girls,” she said. “There are so many hilarious, kind, weird, and talented girls in this program. The feeling of working so hard, and being able to take it out on the field and succeed with them, was the best feeling.”