Burnaby soccer legend Sinclair straps on the boots to beat MS

Since her early teens, Christine Sinclair’s role and main job has been to bury the ball and be a force on the soccer pitch.

It’s only been until the last few years that the Burnaby native has had to sell burgers.

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But the task of pitching in away from the pitch is all part of a cause close to her heart, and the Burnaby South alum is finding a comfort zone in opening up about the fight against Multiple Sclerosis.

Being that her mom has fought the disease for the past 30 years, the Canadian national team captain says stepping up and being the face of A&W’s Burgers to Beat MS campaign is getting easier and easier.

“Obviously, on the field is where I’m most comfortable but now this is becoming easier and easier to talk about, for sure,” Sinclair told the NOW. “I think every year it continues to grow and get bigger and easier for me personally. I’m just excited to help make a difference.”

With more than 77,000 Canadians living with MS, the campaign is equal parts awareness and fundraising – with $2 from the sale of every A&W Teen Burger on Thursday, Aug. 22, going to the MS Society of Canada.

It wasn't always that way, as the shy, sportsminded kid let her passion for playing do most of the talking. She was a star second baseman with her under-11 Burnaby baseball team, and would make her Canadian national soccer debut at 16. Playing soccer was where Sinclair found her passion and focus, to the point where she is one of the biggest international stars in the women's game today. But seeing the strength and determination that her mother Sandi shows in the face of the as-yet incurable disease has really hit home.

“She’s a fighter. It obviously has taken a toll on her, physically more than anything, but she’s hanging in there. She’s strong,” says Sinclair. “I think pretty much every Canadian knows someone who lives with MS and is going through it. It definitely has opened my eyes. Even in Portland I’ve done some work – we had an MS night for the Thorns. It’s been, for me personally, great to get to know others and other families that are similar to mine. I actually get a lot of questions from kids.”

As a member of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Portland Thorns, Sinclair has garnered a position of respect and responsibility in the City of Roses.

The team sits first overall in the standings, at 9-3-6, with six games remaining in the regular season.

Six weeks ago, the just-turned 36-year-old was a central figure on Canada’s run at the World Cup, which ended in a 1-0 loss to Sweden in the round of 16. The loss put the national team, and it’s captain, in a searing spotlight after the squad was unable to produce a shot on goal, and saw young sniper Janine Beckie taking a crucial penalty kick late in the game that was stopped by the Scandinavian goalkeeper.

“If (Beckie) scores, no one’s talking about it. But I think that Sweden game, the (issue) was more so that we didn’t have a shot on goal the whole game,” Sinclair says. “That’s what we’re working at. That has to be our focus moving forward. You can’t rely on penalty shots to win you tournaments and we need to find ways to create more offence in general.”

Although it’s in the rearview mirror, it still stings.

“Obviously, that’s sports for you. You can’t let the highs get you too high or the lows get you too low, especially with the Olympics right around the corner. I think we’ll use the World Cup as fuel. That’s certainly our attitude right now.”

Sinclair stands second overall on the international stage for all-time goals, with 182 over 286 games for Canada. She is just four goals back of all-time record of 185, held by American Abby Wambach.

The Summer Games in Tokyo next year is now the national team’s target. And Sinclair, who has competed in three Olympics and set the current record for most goals scored at the Games, with six at the 2012 London Games, the stage can’t get any bigger.

“If our team knows how to do anything, it’s to bounce back from the World Cups and perform in the Olympics. I think we’ll be fine,” she says.

There’s no room to talk about retirement, saying she takes it one game and one tournament at a time.

Getting ready for the Thorns’ game on Sunday, against second-place Chicago, is a top of her to-do list.

That, and selling some burgers for a great cause.

Through the Burgers to Beat MS Day event, A&Ws across Canada have raised more than $13 million over the years, with $2 million the goal for this Thursday. Every local A&W restaurant will be participating, with donations also accepted at the restaurants and online at burgerstobeatms.ca.

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