While often featured as the quintessential ‘natural athlete,’ Andrea Neil’s early days in sport were anything but easy. Born with a dislocated left hip, she spent part of her first year in a half body cast, the doctor predicting that she would never run properly. Later at the age of five when it was discovered that she was going blind in one eye, she was forced at times to wear a corrective eye patch, although thanks to the ever-present support of her parents Neil’s enthusiasm for sport never diminished.
Looking back on the continued challenges she faced both on and off the field of sport, her story has become one of perseverance and resilience rather than natural ability and ease. Surprisingly however, this story did not begin with the beautiful game. As a teenager Neil was known more for her skills on the badminton court than the soccer pitch and played at the Junior National Level. It wasn’t until grade twelve, when she was quickly identified as a national team prospect after playing for the Kerrisdale Express, that Neil found herself facing a dilemma as to which sport to choose.
Still unable to decide after her first year at UBC, Neil opted to take her second year off and work as a cook on the tall ship Pacific Swift. While in the Dominican Republic her journey was cut short when she nearly lost her leg in a motorcycle accident after infection and gangrene set in. It was during her recovery in Canada that Neil had time to reflect and found herself drawn to the camaraderie of the team atmosphere and new athletic challenges that elite level soccer presented.
Selected for her first National Team camp at age eighteen in 1990, Neil remained a fixture of the program until her retirement in 2007. During her eighteen years as a player she went on to score twenty-four goals, ranking her fifth overall for Canada and accumulating 132 international appearances; at the time of her retirement more than any other player, male or female. She played in four Women’s World Cup tournaments (1995, 1999, 2003, 2007) including Canada’s best-ever finish at a World Cup tournament when the Canadian women finished fourth in 2003.
From 1989 to 1995 Neil played for UBC while earning a degree in Human Kinetics. In 1993 she led the university’s women’s team to a CIAU (now CIS) national championship, scoring the only goal in the 1-0 semifinal win over McGill while playing with stress fractures in both legs. The same year she would be named UBC’s female athlete of the year.
Neil also spent six seasons (2001-2006) playing with the Vancouver Breakers/Whitecaps and established numerous club records. While captain and an assistant coach she led the team to two W-League Championships in 2004 and 2006.
Known as much for her leadership and resilience as her playing ability; her poise, competitiveness and willingness to face extreme adversity with a positive attitude made Neil a mentor to many of the young women who have followed in her footsteps and helped her to earn a permanent place in the history of BC sport.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
Neil is also inducted in the UBC Sports Hall of Fame. For his UBC biography, please visit www.ubcsportshalloffame.com