TORONTO - Canadian women's hockey captain Hayley Wickenheiser has tinkered with preparation techniques over the years to keep her game at the highest possible level.
Now 34 and a veteran of five Winter Olympics, Wickenheiser has shifted away from the heavier weights she lifted in her younger days. She focuses more on functional strength training now, still does regular yoga sessions and has kept making improvements to adjust to the more speed-focused style on the ice.
Wickenheiser also recently added meditation into the mix and it has made an immediate impact.
"I'm a little bit more centred and I feel less anxious about trying to control outcomes in every aspect of my life," she said. "Just letting things go. I think that's a real key as an athlete is to control what you can and let go what you can't.
"I'm by no means perfect, but that's what I'm trying to do anyway."
Wickenheiser tries to meditate for at least a few minutes each day. She closes her eyes, focuses on her breath and tries to get "truly present" in the moment.
The veteran captain has found it reduces stress and she has noticed the effects on her performance.
"I find it just settles me," Wickenheiser said. "I can do it on the plane, I can do it walking around, you can do it anywhere. It's just instant centring and brings you back to perspective.
"It gives me a few minutes of quietness in the day when it's normally not quiet."
The Shaunavon, Sask., native also makes a consistent effort to get more rest than she did in her younger days. Wickenheiser has tinkered with her food choices as well, working gluten-free and organic options into her diet.
It has all helped her stay in top physical form.
"I think I'm a better athlete," Wickenheiser said. "I'm fitter and I move better now than I did when I was 20."
Wickenheiser was in Toronto on Thursday for promotional work to support the Kraft Hockey Goes On program, which recognizes local volunteers involved in the sport in communities across Canada.
The national women's team camp is underway in Ottawa, the host city of the 2013 women's world championships.
Wickenheiser is instead focusing on other commitments this week, including her kinesiology studies at the University of Calgary and playing for the Dinos at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level.
Soon she'll be focused on preparations for the world playdowns in April, when Canada will attempt to defend the title it won last year in Burlington, Vt.
And in just over a year, the 2014 Winter Olympics will begin in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and will be looking for a successful defence of that title there as well.
"I think we're in really good shape," Wickenheiser said. "I think we've got a good group of core players and a middle group of players now that has one Olympics under their belt and has won at the Olympic Games and knows what that's all about.
"You need that mix of veterans and youth to bring it all together. I think that our team has that mix."