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Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe gets vulnerable in new documentary

Even at the height of her athletic career, Stephanie Labbe struggled. 

The pressures of being a professional athlete, the reality of being forced to live far away from loved ones, the constant uncertainty of her career all left her battling serious anxiety and depression, even after she stood on an Olympic podium with a gold medal around her neck.

It’s a journey the former Canadian goalkeeper is sharing in the new documentary Shut Out.

Telling her story hasn’t always been easy, but Labbe has found strength in sharing.

“I know how being vulnerable is powerful,” she said. “I really do think vulnerability is strength. And so being able to, like actually see (Shut Out) confirms that in a way.”

The nearly hour-long documentary launches Tuesday on TELUS Optik TV for subscribers in B.C. and Alberta. Other Canadians can find it online via TELUS Originals.

The film details how a lack of opportunities left Labbe reeling. She was forced to leave Canada in order to find places to play soccer, dealt with serious injuries and consistently had to fight for a spot on the national team.

Making the project took almost a year, as film maker Cassie De Colling sat down for extended interviews with a variety of people in the star athlete’s life, including her parents, partner, friends and former teammates and coaches. 

The end product includes a vast array of archival footage, from home videos reaching all the way back to Labbe’s ice hockey days in childhood, to snippets of some of her greatest sporting moments, including the penalties she stopped to help Canada capture gold at the Tokyo Olympics. 

“It’s one thing to talk about it, but to actually show things and bring that up, it’s pretty awesome,” Labbe said. 

Interspersed with the interviews and archival footage are recreated scenes, including footage of Labbe playing soccer alone on a dark field, an image that captures the heavy, solitary state that enveloped the star ‘keeper through parts of her career. 

“I really wanted to play with the visual language,” De Colling said. “That takes a whole other level of direction because you’re asking your subject to almost participate in your ideas rather than purely being an observational documentarian.” 

Speaking to Labbe for the first time, the film maker was struck by how relatable her experience was. Yes, Labbe was an elite athlete who had experienced some of the highest heights in women’s soccer, but she was dealing with issues many people experience, too, including pressure to perform and finding your identity.

“For me, seeing behind this iconic figure is just the everydayness we’re all facing,” De Colling said. 

Labbe knows her experience will resonate with a variety of people. It’s part of why she wanted to make Shut Out. 

“I think that’s the amazing thing about this is that different people are going to connect to it in different ways and in different moments of it,” she said. “And I think the biggest thing is, I just hope that it has an impact on people in a positive way.”

Labbe has been working to create positive change in the soccer world since she retired from playing in August 2022.

She’s deeply involved in bringing a women’s professional league to Canada through Project 8, and wants to help create the opportunities she didn’t have coming up in soccer. 

Being able to play at home will help future generations avoid some of the struggles she faced, Labbe said. 

“Creating a life outside of sport was really, really challenging. I always felt that I was on the move,” she said.

“Players are going to be able to play for so much longer (with a Canadian league) because they’re going to feel like they can actually start a family and create a home where they are.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

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