Meet the dedicated nurse and ice hockey referee that is the embodiment of Olympic values. We spoke to Gabrielle Ariano-Lortie about balancing an intense career with her love of hockey and discovered what it takes to referee top-flight Olympic sport.
On the ice, Gabrielle Ariano-Lortie is a monument to focus and authority. For four quarters of a hockey game, the word of this Canadian referee is law. Kitted in black and white stripes, with a whistle at the ready, Gabrielle is right in the middle of the speed and physicality of Olympic ice hockey. Some might think that only the sternest of individuals would suit such a role, but outside of the Games Gabrielle’s world requires a warmer touch. Once she steps out of the rink, she is a nurse.
At her home in Montreal, Gabrielle is a far cry from her strict Olympic persona. With cheerful eyes and untied hair, she recalls proudly her feelings when she found out she had been selected as a referee for women’s ice hockey in PyeongChang 2018.
“I was moved and relieved and I said to myself ‘Oh my god, that’s it I’ve done it’,” the 33 year old recollected beaming. It was at the end of November that she learned about her future participation in the Olympic Games, or as she described it: “the highest level you can possibly reach in women’s ice hockey”.
For Gabrielle Ariano-Lortie, her referee career started 16 years ago. “At that time I was playing hockey, a friend of my brother went to do a referee training course and I started asking questions,” she recalled. From this moment she decided to make it a student job, which would be her first rung on a ladder to success. Sixteen years later, “the speed of the game [and] the fact that anything can change in one second,” is the reason her love of the sport has never diminished.
Hockey in The Blood
Professional referee duties, coupled with an intensive day job would be too much for some individuals but for Gabrielle, she makes the most of her shift work. “I’m a nurse in intensive care at the Cardiology Institute of Montreal, so I work 12 hours a day,” she explained, adding that those working shifts allow her to take several days off in a row, “in order to train more”.
After listening to Gabrielle, There is as much dedication and sacrifice asked of referees as there is of Olympic athletes.
“It’s quite hard…I miss family dinners because as soon as I have free time, I need to go on the ice and train. I often take care of [arrangements] myself because referees are less supported than players,” said Gabrielle. There is also the added pressure that exists due to women’s ice hockey receiving less support and management than the men’s team. Gabrielle described this as “a societal issue”.
Despite these challenges, her passion and determination have helped her conquer every career milestone along the way. Her experience includes refereeing the Women’s Ice Hockey World Championship held by IIHF in 2015, 2016 and 2017 as well as the Four Nations Cup, Clarkson Cup and the European Women’s Champions Cup in 2014 and 2015.
“It’s already been seven years that I’ve been doing international championships and the more you do…the more you want to go to [the] Olympic Games,” she said.
Although her main goal has been achieved, Gabrielle will still train harder and continue to uphold the principles of ice hockey. One rule she singled out was the importance of neutrality at all times.
Discipline, Self-Belief and Strength
Gabrielle’s experience has given her a unique perspective that is valuable to any aspiring referee that wishes to follow in her footsteps.
“You don’t have to let yourself be influenced by what the trainers, athletes and spectators are saying, to you, even if sometimes they say really unpleasant things. Also, you also have to be athletic, because we are on the ice for the same amount of time as Olympic champions, so we have to train at that level,” she said.
As for the pressure of being involved in top-flight hockey at the Olympic Games in front of a global audience, she tries not to think about it. To her, every referee of a hockey game, even at an Olympic level, should treat every game with the same attention to detail and respect for the rules for the good of the sport.
Other secrets to her success and keeping cool under pressure come in the form of two friends who made the trip to support her and her lucky charm, “a small stuffed red lobster” that follows her wherever she goes.
So, when you’re watching an Olympic hockey match and you see a particularly hard working referee, know that she loves what she does, she trains hard and her name is Gabrielle.