Photo Provided by UBCO Heat.

UBC Okanagan is home to thousands of talented individuals who hope to go on and make a difference in the world. Whether it be scientific research, film production, social activism, or anything in between, the resources and opportunities at UBCO help students on their path to achieving their wildest dreams — and for Molly Race, that dream was professional soccer. 

Molly Race was the goalkeeper for the UBCO women’s soccer team. She spent three seasons with the Heat, playing over 2,000 minutes and saving over 100 goals. On top of dominating on the pitch, Race had impressive stats as a student. During her time as a management student, she was named an Academic All-Canadian for achieving an 80 per cent grade average, received a leadership and community service award, and was a Heat athletic council representative.

In April of 2023, Race signed a professional contract with FC Nordsjælland (FCN) in the Danish Women’s top division Kvinde-Dm Liga. While many friends and fans got to see her graduate to professional soccer, very few understand the true process of reaching that point, so The Phoenix reached out to Race to learn more about her experience. Despite her busy training schedule and the eight-hour time difference between Copenhagen and Kelowna, she took the time to share the details regarding her time playing university soccer at UBCO and her path to becoming a professional soccer player. 

Like most students who began university during the COVID-19 pandemic, Race’s start at UBCO was unusual. On the field, her team had to train according to physical distancing restrictions, and as a student, classes were online, which made it difficult to form connections with classmates and professors. This experience lasted for her first two years. Despite these challenges, Race “settled into a starting role and adjusted well to the load that UBCO training and matches require[d].”

When year three came around, restrictions were lifted, classes were delivered in person, and the soccer season was back to normal. Race was able to get more comfortable with her role as a student-athlete, and in November of 2022, she was first noticed by scouts and coaches. As exciting as this was, it meant facing the task of communicating with a pro football club that was 7,000 kilometres away. 

For Race, the signing process was full of uncertainty and disbelief. “Anything can change in just minutes in a pro club, and the club must make the best decisions for the business when it comes to players, especially abroad,” she explained. 

“The move to the professional environment was a roller coaster . . .” she said. “The communication, trial, and signing process was very quick and sometimes last minute . . . I spent a lot of time wondering if I would be able to go on trial, when it would fit into my school schedule, and if the club even needed me.”

Still, she stayed focused on doing what she loved and proving that she belonged at the top level. She closed out her third year strong, playing 1,260 minutes, saving 56 shots at net, and signing the papers to make her professional career official. Although it took three years to enjoy a proper season of soccer, she was thankful for the experience and what it led to:

“That one true year at UBCO was one of the strongest versions of myself I have ever experienced . . . Being a teammate on UBCO women’s soccer, a Heat Athlete Council Representative, and a management student is something that will shape who I am for the rest of my youth.”

Soon after her season ended, Race made the move to the outskirts of Copenhagen, which is “far from life in Kelowna, in more ways than one.” She explained that the culture and lifestyle are very different and that she is “constantly learning every day, whether it's new words in Danish, learning how to use public transport, or approximating how much a Danish krone is compared to a Canadian dollar.” Making friends on a different continent was also a challenge, and Race expressed immense gratitude for the built-in friends within her team who alleviated some of the stress and exhaustion of the transition.

After settling in and completing preseason and regular season training, Race made her professional debut in September of 2023 during the first round of the Common Women’s Cup. She said her heart was “beating as fast as someone running the beep test” as she stepped onto the pitch, but she reminded herself that she had worked hard for that moment and that the “work ethic and glimpse of certain professional tendencies” displayed by the UBCO women’s soccer team had prepared her. Backed by their incredible keeper, FCN won 3-0, and with her first pro game under her belt, Race walked away feeling proud and “hungry for the next match.”

Race shared, “I'm not sure there is anything I can compare to making your debut as a young player in a meaningful game . . . After that game, I took the time to step back and celebrate the fact that I worked extremely hard in preseason and throughout the season leading up to that game.”

Race has years of experience playing high-performance soccer. Before her time at UBCO, she got an early glimpse into what it takes to be a competitive athlete while playing for the Thompson Okanagan Football Club (TOFC). TOFC competes in the British Columbia Soccer Premier League (BCSPL), the highest level of youth soccer in the province which aims to feed athletes into university programs. In this environment, Race trained and travelled each week to showcase her talent in front of scouts and coaches, and ultimately was recruited to UBCO. Upon entering the U SPORTS league, she was able to play at the highest level of women’s soccer in Canada. Still, when asked to compare the competition levels between university and professional football, she felt that there was no comparison at all.

Race explained that even though athletes in both leagues are high-performance athletes, the resources, exposure, and player roles are “so incredibly different” at the professional level. To be a student-athlete means that you must focus equally on performing well in your sport and in your studies. While there are women in the professional environment that go to school, “the resources being provided in Europe are extremely distinct to Canada.” 

What sets the boundary between professional and university soccer, Race argued, is the players’ goals as individuals. Pros get paid to play, so they can focus solely on their sport. In her experience as a pro, she said that “everyone has relatively similar dreams of playing at the highest level in professional football,” whereas at the university level, athletes’ long-term goals vary from person to person because they often have to consider other career options. 

Not even Race had fully imagined being able to continue playing soccer after her university career. She did express her desire to the head coaches at UBCO of her dreams to continue playing, but she did not see herself leaving the women’s soccer program as early as she did to be able to pursue those dreams. 

For any of you who got the chance to know Race, whether it be taking a class with her, passing by her on campus, or watching her out on the field, you will definitely remember her positive energy, infectious smile, and kind words. To be a student-athlete is an extreme honour, and Race always wore her UBCO colours with pride. Even now, after nine months of playing for a new squad, she continues to support the Heat community on social media and tries to stay updated on her past teammates’ achievements. 

Race attributes much of her success to the people at UBCO. Her time here was an important stepping stone to playing at the next level, and even though the start of her university experience was not exactly what she had hoped, Race had a community of people supporting her along the way. All of the moments in those three years, both positive and negative, helped shape her into the incredible human and athlete that she is today. Though she is just one person who got to move on into the professional realm, her success is the culmination of many years of hard work from everybody at UBCO.

“I do not believe there is a powerful enough word to describe the character, bravery, intelligence, and amity of every single person who puts on a UBCO Heat uniform,” she expressed. “Each person who is favoured to don a position — whatever that may be — at UBCO Athletics gives someone like me a chance to believe in themselves. I never had a doubt that each player, coach, advisor, media team member, director, or assistant had everything to do with my accomplishments.”

Race’s teammates trained with her and pushed her to play at her best. Her professors and advisors ensured that she was succeeding in the classroom. The media teams covered her games and boosted her achievements online. Her coaches supported her technical development, and when her interest in professional soccer grew, they put her in a position to be recognized by scouts. Every time she stepped on the field to represent our university, she had hundreds of fans in the stands cheering her on.

Community support was a key factor that aided Race in becoming a pro goalkeeper, and when asked if she had any advice for those who are striving to reach those same levels of success, her number one suggestion was for people to provide and seek out that same support:

“I understand that this process is going to be different for everyone. I would simply ask you to stay curious, be authentic, and never miss an opportunity to pick someone else up. Whether you think they need it or not. Life gives back when you give first. We do not succeed without the belief and support from others around us.”

Now, a year after signing with FCN, Race is entering the spring season, where she will continue to learn, grow, and compete with the best. She said that she feels excited to be in her current position and hopes to continue chasing her dreams. Her meaningful experience as a Heat soccer player opened up a new world of possibilities, and she hopes to have blazed the path for others to follow in her footsteps.