It’s been almost three years now since arguably the greatest player of all time graced the international hockey field. Players all over the world have cited her as being inspirational in the pursuit of their own careers, and her abilities have seen her compared to legend Diego Maradona. In fact, in Argentina, she is just as much of a superstar.
Of course, you know we’re talking about the one and only Luciana Aymar, who celebrates her 40th birthday today. Her final game at the Champion’s Trophy 2014 in Mendoza, Argentina, was a great way for such a legend to depart, winning gold in front of her home crowd and being crowned player of the tournament.
The world’s most decorated player won four consecutive Olympic medals from 2000 to 2012, four World Cup medals and an incredible ten, yes ten, Champions Trophy medals. As well as the countless medals she won with her Las Leonas team mates, she was named FIH World Player of the Year a record eight times, a feat that may never be repeated.
In her glittering career, Luciana won 376 caps and scored 162 goals for her country.
Born in the city of Rosario, 300km North-West of Buenos Aries, her international career spanned two decades, from her under-21 debut in 1994 to her swansong in the aforementioned 2014 Champions Trophy (her 6th gold medal in that competition). It seems that there must be some magic in the Parana River water that flows alongside the city because Argentina and Barcelona footballing legend Lionel Messi also hails from there.
As a sixteen year-old, the young Luciana travelled the 600km round trip to Buenos Aires to play her beloved sport, and that dedication and determination was the cornerstone of her attitude and ultimate success. She had to endure solitude and poor accommodation at CENARD (Centro National de Alto Rendimiento Deportivo) – the centre of excellence for athletes in Argentina – at a very young age. Thankfully, CENARD is a much better place to stay these days.
She said she wouldn’t had endured those times if it wasn’t for her friend and former Leona teammate Ayelén Stepnik who travelled with her every Sunday of every week. Friends describe young Luciana as a very quiet person and she said herself that when journalist interviewed her she had a hard time speaking. She did come out of her shell a bit later on when she and Stepnik were quite mischievous amongst the national team.
Since a child, all Luciana has known is hockey, and her transition away from the game has been as challenging as the commitment she showed at becoming the best in the world. She summed it up perfectly in a recent interview saying, “I heard Rafa [Nadal] say he does not think he will find another moment of happiness as full as being on the court. I felt the same; on a hockey field I was happy, it was me. I could express all my emotions. It was the real Luciana. Now, today is perhaps my greatest challenge; to reinvent myself in my personal life”.
Luciana has worked hard since she retired to come to terms with a new life ahead of her, and freely admits needing help to get over the transition.
Since her retirement, she has worked for ESPN with their hockey coverage and in 2015 she started work with journalist and long-time friend Milagros Lay Gonzalez to make a documentary about her life. The movie is called ‘Lucha, playing with the impossible’ and was released in 2016. The entire Las Leonas team went to the premier with Lucha and apparently were making fun of her for some of the hilarious content.
Luciana now seems a lot happier in herself, and even though hockey has left a large hole to fill, her life after hockey is taking shape. Over the past year, she has found love in the form of Chilean tennis player Fernando Gonzalez. She has been spending a lot of time going to and from Chile in this time.
Speaking to Caras Chile Magazine last month, she said, “I want to be a mother, have children and do my other activities, I will need them. I’m not just about being in the house, maybe the day I’m a mother it will change my Way of thinking, because you adapt your life to the moment. Maybe when I have a child I will want to dedicate my time to it 24 hours a day, but I will never stop doing my things. ”
As well as travelling to Chile, Lucha has also been frequenting one of her favourite places, Miami, to run hockey camps in order to promote the sport in the USA. Luciana would love the youngsters there, where there are many Latinos, to embrace hockey the way they do in Argentina.
You have to remember that Luciana Aymar was not only a great player, but she continues to inspire every young girl in Argentina, not just in hockey but sport in general. She is a very important role model and is one of the country’s most recognisable athletes. When she was a young girl, it was unthinkable that a sportswoman could be so successful. She was part of a group of players that were so determined that they even paid their own way. They had no sponsors or government backing and their sheer determination and belief are solely responsible for the Las Leonas we see today.
It’s safe to say that she is keeping herself busy now but none of us will ever forget what a contribution this amazing woman made to our game and we wish her all the best for the future. Here’s to the next chapter of your life Luciana, we will always be by your side.