At the European Championships, she is just one of two Belgium goalkeepers who are engaged in a fierce battle under the crossbar. There is no evidence that Aisling D’Hooghe (28) has suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS) since childhood. She will stop after the Olympics, but she says the condition has never hindered her.
Twelve years ago, her body failed her hard. D’Hooghe, then only sixteen, became temporarily paralyzed on the right side of her body. At that time she was at the beginning of her career as a top goalkeeper. Her talent was quickly noticed in Belgium, where she already trained with the national team at that young age.
So the cause of that bizarre moment was multiple sclerosis, or MS for short. A chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Nerves can be permanently or temporarily damaged as a result, causing parts of the body to no longer function properly.
That dramatic event left no major scars. It didn’t take long for me to get back on the field. A few weeks, or so’, says D’Hooghe. MS is something that belongs to me. I’ve had it since I was six. I don’t know any better. I’m lucky that I don’t often really have something.’
Unpredictable, but not a hindrance
That temporary outage turned out to be no barrier to the top. In fact, a year after that paralysis, she was seventeen years old with Belgium at the Olympic Games. She has been part of the international goalkeeper stop ever since. The Walloon is working on her fifth European Championship and has already won three World Cups. Her illness is unpredictable, but has never hindered her top sport career, says D’Hooghe, who now has 215 caps. Not even when she lost feeling in her right hand for a while at the age of 21. This year, the same thing happened with three fingers.
‘It’s going well,’ says D’Hooghe. “Sometimes I have a small attack. It’s the extra part of me. It didn’t really affect hockey. No negative moments, in any case.’ With a smile: ‘Yes, I am tired sometimes. But every top athlete has that at some point, right?’
In previous interviews, D’Hooghe said that at first she did not discuss MS in the media. She didn’t want sensational stories. An encounter with a young patient who had the same illness changed that. The girl had been told by her doctors that she could forget about exercising. Then D’Hooghe realized that she can be a source of inspiration.
Of course the goalie sometimes thinks about the years to come. She has no idea what her illness will look like when she’s older. ‘It is a special disease. No one has the same kind of MS. I have many question marks about my future. If you think about that for too long, you better stop playing top sport right away. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve had it for a long time and it will be there forever. But that doesn’t make me different.’
Dreaming after hockey
She has already determined that she will retire after the Olympics. MS is not the main reason. It is one of the reasons,’ says D’Hooghe. She is also concerned about her job as an alderman in Waterloo and her family life. D’Hooghe and her husband have a 2.5 year old son. She put it nicely in the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws: ‘I’m stopping because I don’t want to take the risk of asking too much of my body, which you already do as a top athlete by definition. Not so much for myself, but for my son.’
She dreams beyond hockey. Hopes to be re-elected as a municipal administrator in the fall of 2024. She would like to be a mother again. And, of course, to stay as healthy as possible. “But doesn’t that apply to everyone?”