It is with a very heavy heart that the European women’s sledge hockey team says goodbye to one of their members, Eline van der Gaag. After a long fight, Eline passed away peacefully at home on Sunday morning.
Irtje van der Linden was one of her closest friends on the team.
“Eline was a beautiful, sweet loving person. She was married to Fred, the love of her life, and blessed with two wonderful boys, Nick and Don. She never complained, and took life as it came along, with a kind word, a smile and a tear for those who needed it, always with compassion.”
Eline joined the team in 2012, representing the Netherlands in the mixed-nation group, and immediately became a crucial part of the team. While she started as an outskater, after a tournament in Philadelphia she took on the role of goalkeeper. She trained hard in the position, and by the time the team went to Canada in 2014, she had made the role her own.
When she became ill and unable to travel with the team, she left a huge gap, not just between the posts, but in the heart of the team. Caroline Bonner, team captain, remembers the things that made her an inspiration.
“Passionate, loving, strong and being a fighter – they were big themes for her. But really she loved this team and all the players so so much, it really did fill her with joy to be with us and to hear from us.”
Eline’s friendship and influence on the ice wasn’t limited just to Europe. She was also well loved and respected by sledge hockey players across the world. One of these in particular, Peggy Assinck of the Canadian Women’s Sledge Hockey Team, had an especially close friendship with her.
“Eline was an amazing athlete and friend. We met in 2008 in the USA during a women’s camp and she approached me recognizing that my last name was Dutch. I shared with her that my dad was Dutch and we became fast friends keeping in touch over social media over the next many years. At the next camp, she brought me an entire bag of stroopwafel and we shared them late one night while our respective teams had gone to bed. More recently, I was in the Netherlands playing Floorball a few years back and she came to watch out tournament (supporting our Canadian and the Dutch team) and catching up! Eline struck me as an incredible and strong women when I first met her and as I got to know her better, it also became apparent that her family and her involvement in sports were so important too her. I am so happy to have met her and have had such an amazing female role model in my life from another continent.”
As a mark of respect, Eline’s jersey number – #1 – will be retired by the European women’s team.
There’s no doubt she will be greatly missed, but she will always be remembered by the sledge hockey community as an athlete, a fighter, and a friend. In the words of teammate Irtje:
“In our memory she always will be Eline with a smile, a good heart for everybody and a great goalie for our team. Her favourite quote about our team was ‘we are not a team, we are family’. She will be missed.”