Shelby Beck had always been a good soccer player.
After all, she had progressed from a successful club career with Langley FC to playing at the university level in Canada West, perhaps the toughest conference in all of Canada for women’s soccer.
But a chat with her coach at the University of the Fraser Valley after her second year elevated the striker to another level.
“We saw a lot of potential in Shelby, so much natural ability and such a love for the game that we knew if she got herself more physically ready to play, she would just be very successful,” recalled UFV Cascades coach Rob Giesbrecht.
So Giesbrecht approached the striker about her fitness level.
“I think just having that conversation … about if you want to accomplish what you want, you have to do these things.”
Beck took the conversation to heart and set out to eat healthier and improve her fitness.
“It was a tough conversation. It wasn’t easy to hear someone tell you that you need to get fitter and you need to be able to produce for the team,” she admitted.
“It wasn’t an easy thing, especially being a girl.
“A lot of girls have self-image problems and that kind of stuff.”
But Beck put in the work and dropped 30 pounds.
“It is a really rewarding feeling now to know I have that much in me to do that. But at the time, it wasn’t enjoyable, it was really hard,” she said.
“That summer I dedicated my whole life to just getting fit and being ready to play.
“That’s all I did — ate salad every day and ran and ran and ran and ran until I was fit enough to be a starter ... and it really paid off for me.”
Beck, a 2011 Walnut Grove Secondary graduate, didn’t start in any of her games the first two years with UFV in 2011 and 2012, registering one goal and two assists over that span.
In her third year — after dedicating herself to better fitness in the off-season — Beck started just one game, but really came on late in the season, finishing with a team-high six goals in 10 games.
Giesbrecht remembers exactly when Beck elevated her game — it was on a weekend road trip in Manitoba in late October.
In the first game, Beck came off the bench at the half and scored three times in 45 minutes against Winnipeg. And the next day against Manitoba, she started and responded with another goal.
She took that late-season confidence into her fourth year, where she started all 12 games for the Cascades and finished tied for the team lead with six goals. Beck also scored a crucial goal in the Canada West playoffs to qualify UFV for the CIS nationals in 2014.
Beck capped off her fifth and final season with the Cascades by again starting all 14 of the team’s games. And while she only scored twice in 2015, Beck did lead the country with nine assists.
“She bought in and started to see the fruit of all of her hard work and just had a couple of awesome seasons with us,” Giesbrecht said.
“She’s a great example to other student-athletes who may not get the playing time they desire in their first few years.
“(But) if you put in the work, the rewards will come.”
“It is just crazy how fast five years flew by.
“It just seemed like yesterday that I was coming in as a freshman,” she said. “It just went by way too fast.”
But while her time with UFV is done as a player, Beck is not yet done with the game.
On Friday, she was selected to represent Canada in the sport of futsal at the FISU World University Championships in Brazil. They run July 3 to 10 in Goiania, a city in the central-western region of Brazil.
Futsal is a five-a-side derivative of soccer, which is played on a smaller field — the size of a basketball court — and generally indoors.
“It has been such a pleasure to play my five years of university soccer at UFV and to end it with representing Canada is an honour,” Beck said.
“I never thought I would get the chance to be able to represent my country and doing so feels like such an accomplishment.
“Coming back with a medal would be a surreal way to end my university career.”
Beck is familiar with futsal as the Cascades regularly use it for training, especially during the winter months.
“It reduces the time and space that girls have on the ball and it allows the creative juices to flow,” Giesbrecht explained.
“A player like Shelby, who is so technical, it just allows her to excel.”
The team was selected by invitation with Mount Royal Cougars’ Tino Fusco serving as head coach.
Beck will continue training throughout the spring and will head to Calgary for a pre-tournament camp in June.
Once she returns to Canada, Beck will continue working towards her degree as she is about a year away from completing her studies in social work.
She also hopes to help coach and train with the UFV women’s program.
Beck is also contemplating going overseas to try her hand at playing professionally.