TORONTO – Every morning for the past several years, Teresa Gabriele has crawled out of bed in pitch darkness to stock bread.
The alarm rings at 3:45 a.m. and she’s in her first store in Abbotsford, B.C., by 4:30, when most people are still fast asleep.
Not the most glamorous work for Canada’s women’s basketball captain, but her job with her family’s bread business has allowed her to pursue her Olympic dreams — and her appearance in London will be the punctuation mark on an illustrious career.
The 32-year-old point guard from Mission, B.C., doesn’t see her work as a sacrifice and scoffs at any suggestion she’s put her life on hold.
“This is my dream and what I love to do so this is what I’m doing right now,” Gabriele said after a practice at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.
Gabriele has been the mainstay of Canada’s women’s team for more than a decade, and is the only remaining player from the 2000 Sydney Games, the last time a Canadian basketball team has stepped onto sport’s biggest stage.
“I’m thinking of retiring after this, so it’s a storybook ending for me,” Gabriele said. “I started my career very early with an Olympics and then to be able to end it with an Olympics, it’s awesome.”
The Canadians qualified for the Games at the 11th hour, beating Japan in a must-win game in a last-chance qualifier on Canada Day to earn the final berth.
“We were just telling everybody we wanted to qualify on Canada Day,” Gabriele laughed about their nailbiting run through qualifying.
Gabriele had a standout career at Simon Fraser University, and then played professionally in Italy, Spain and Austria. She moved home to B.C.’s lower mainland in 2006, where she lives with her husband Marcello, a former football player at SFU. A certified personal trainer, she trains on her own, squeezing in weight workouts or shooting drills between between her morning and afternoon bread runs. She’s normally in bed by 8 p.m.
“He’s a teacher and he coaches, so he’s busy too,” she said of Marcello. “(Our schedule) has definitely taken some discipline from me and understanding from him, which is nice.”
Canada’s longtime head coach Allison McNeill has known Gabriele for more than two decades after first spotting her as a fifth grader, and has developed what she calls a special bond with her captain.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that someone would stay and commit and be rewarded for it,” McNeill said.
The five-foot-five guard, the coach said, is everything she could want in a team captain, whom she also recruited to and coached at SFU.
“She’s just got an unbelievable calmness about her, she absolutely doesn’t idolize anyone, doesn’t get intimidated by anyone, doesn’t get overwhelmed by anything, there are no situations where she doesn’t come to play,” McNeill said. “She leads by example: ‘We’re here to play, what else is there? Let’s play, lace them up.'”
Gabriele said she’s thrilled her teammates — including veteran forward and fellow Mission, B.C., native Kim Smith, who joined the squad a year after the 2000 Games — will have the chance to live the Olympic dream.
“I think just walking into the opening ceremonies and you’re with all those other Canadian athletes, and they’ve achieved their goals and dreams,” Gabriele said when asked about her best memories of the Sydney Olympics. “You get goosebumps just thinking about walking in with all the other athletes and looking up and there are thousands and thousands of people, and you’re representing your country, you’re wearing Canada on your chest.
“You just have a huge sense of pride.”
While the Canadian women have played in two world championships since Sydney, the exposure on the Olympic stage will be unlike anything they’ve experienced, Smith said.
“Now little kids can watch us and dream of playing in the Olympics when they’re older,” said the 28-year-old University of Utah grad. “I grew up watching Teresa, I watched her play in the Sydney Olympics, and that was so huge to have a role model like that.
“We’re kind of unknown in this country because we spend all our time over in South America or Europe… Now we’re going to be on a national stage and people are going to hear about us, which is great.”
Gabriele didn’t practise Tuesday morning after receiving a cortisone shot in her foot — a painful process she’s become all too familiar with in dealing with plantar fasciitis for the past couple of years.
Gabriele insisted she’ll be fine once she steps on the court in London. Canada opens the tournament July 28 — the day after the opening ceremonies — versus Russia.
“You have so much adrenalin when you step onto the court, it’s obviously mind over matter a lot of the time too,” she said on playing hurt.
Canada will also face Britain, France, Brazil and defending world champions Australia in the preliminary round.