Like many Canadians, Kelowna’s Emily Zurrer was glued to her TV early in the morning on Aug. 5 to watch Canada’s Olympic women’s soccer team play for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
It was an emotional experience for Zurrer, who played for the national side in two previous Olympics winning a bronze in the London 2012 Games, to see many of her former teammates defeat Sweden in a penalty kick shootout after the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in regulation and extra time play.
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel watching the game but I just burst into tears at the end of it. I was so happy for many of my former teammates,” Zurrer said.
“It was such an incredible thing for our country and for the future of the women’s soccer because so many young girls would be watching.”
Soccer was the central passion of Zurrer’s life growing up on Vancouver Island, making her debut for the women’s national team in 2004 when she was just 16.
That same year, she helped Canada win gold at the CONCACAF Women’s U20 Championship, earning MVP honours. She played for Canada in for World Cup appearances, playing a total of 82 international matches for the national team before retiring in 2015.
Watching the Tokyo Olympics gold medal final, it brought back memories for her of the 2012 London Olympics when Canada had hopes of winning a gold medal.
Those dreams were dashed by several controversial referee calls against Canada, resulting in a 4-3 loss in extra time to the U.S., a game called by many as the greatest international women’s soccer matches ever played, certainly the most dramatic.
“It was so amazing to see. I had an emotional reaction to it I did not expect…we had such high hopes of winning the gold in 2012 and to see them reach the gold medal podium in Tokyo…” she recalled.
Besides playing for the national side, Zurrer played in women’s professional leagues in Sweden, Germany and the U.S.
As her career came to an end, Zurrer’s life changed after getting married to a helicopter engineer and then living in Shanghai for two years before moving back to Canada two years ago.
“We had a choice to make. I wanted to move back to Vancouver Island and my husband wanted to move to Kelowna,” she laughed. “In the end, he won and we moved to Kelowna and now I’m happy we did.”
While she is expecting her first child later this year, Zurrer wondered initially after retirement how she would fill the void in her life filled by soccer for so long.
“It is hard to emulate the emotional excitement and passion of playing in front of 50,000 fans or at an event like the Olympics.”
But her husband’s interest in real estate investment raised new career direction possibilities for her.
“My husband has been investing in real estate throughout his career and that got me interested in it,” she said.
“After retiring from soccer, I thought it would be quite a challenge for me to find something else to match that level of passion soccer had represented for my next chapter in life. But as I started to get into real estate investment sales myself, it seemed like getting my realtor license was a natural fit.”
Today, she is establishing a real estate sales career for herself in the Okanagan, working for Century 21.
Zurrer is optimistic about the future of women’s soccer as a new generation of players begin to ascend to the national stage.
Christine Sinclair, the leading goalscorer of international men’s and women’s soccer, is nearing retirement, the best player Canada has ever produced to date, someone who Zurrer calls the glue of the national women’s soccer program for the last decade.
“She has never been the vocal, rah-rah-rah type of leader. She has always led by example and is one of the most humble players you will ever meet,” she said.
Zurrer said many of her former teammates have continued to contribute to the Canada women’s soccer program in coaching and administrative role, and she hopes to give back to her sport perhaps coaching younger kids amid the time challenges of establishing a new career and starting a family.