BELLINGHAM — There will come a time, perhaps a year from now, when Maealie Glanzer gets a firsthand look at exactly where she came from.
But these days, still only 13 and fresh off being co-grand marshal of the Seafair Torchlight Parade while charting a hockey path toward a faraway Winter Olympics dream, present-day life is coming at her fast. There are daily workouts, supplementary on-ice training, travel tournaments with her Sno-King elite squad and increased public visibility as a youth spokesperson for Women’s Pro Hockey Seattle.
So despite already being likely the most decorated hockey player — the ice version of hockey, anyway — from her native Uganda, exploring roots isn’t topping Glanzer’s priorities.
“I’m not really focused on the past, more on the future,” she said this month at her family’s Bellingham home. “Because I think what impacts you the most is what’s in your future.”
She admittedly knows little about the impoverished East African nation she was adopted from at age 2; of the murderous 1970s regime of dictator Idi Amin, the 1980s civil war following his exile, or the onetime pariah state’s ensuing struggle to modernize.
Still, the past can linger as Glanzer’s present-day accomplishments accumulate.
Her adoption was highlighted last year when she received the state’s first $1,000 equipment scholarship from Black Girl Hockey Club. And in May upon receiving the Wayne Gittinger Inspirational Youth Award at the 87th Seattle Sports Star of the Year banquet. Then again last month as she rode in a Mercedes convertible, one of six female grand marshals at a Torchlight Parade previously featuring Sonics great Gary Payton, Guns ‘N Roses bassist Duff McKagan, actress Anna Faris, soccer star DeAndre Yedlin and comedian Drew Carey in identical roles.
“I’d never been in a parade,” Glanzer said. “It was kind of intimidating. You try to wave at everyone and smile at everyone. But it was really fun.”
At the parade’s end, she was unexpectedly thrust into a live television interview. “It was kind of along the lines of the future of women’s hockey in Seattle and how it might impact people,” she said.
Glanzer hopes to be among those positively impacted. Her scholarship positioned her to meet Black female pros such as Saroya Tinker, Blake Bolden and Sarah Nurse.
“I ask them for advice on how to get better,” she said. “Or, if I’m about to go to a camp, I’ll ask them about the mental part of it that I should be preparing for.”
Those discussions sparked at least some Glanzer interest in past events. She’s intrigued by the evolution of the women’s game, especially with players of color.
“I like to look at things like, ‘How many people of color are on the Olympic team this year? On the college teams?’ Or, ‘Where are they from?’ Because most are from Minnesota or heavy hockey places. We don’t see many kids from Washington.”
And in the context of hockey, if not her birth certificate, Washington is where Glanzer calls home. At her age — she turns 14 Sept. 1 — no one is pressuring her to own her Ugandan heritage despite its increased visibility.
Glanzer hasn’t seen Uganda since parents Carrie, 40 and a nurse, and Brandon, 39 and a middle-school teacher, adopted her in 2010 from an orphanage in Jinja, a port city of 300,000 adjacent to Lake Victoria. Young “Mae” lived there with future adoptive sisters, Kaatri and Brynn, then 4 and 6.
Ugandan law allowed the Glanzers to adopt up to two children at a time. They got matched with Mae and Kaatri, and spent 40 days in Uganda awaiting approval to leave, living at a nearby guesthouse.
“Learning to parent a child in a Third World country was interesting,” said Carrie Glanzer, who had done humanitarian work in Uganda and long wanted to adopt. “And you never knew when you’d be done. It was always, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow.’ And we were like, ‘You’ve been telling us that for two weeks.’ “
When in public they were subjected to not-always-friendly curiosity.
“We were referred to as mzungus — white people,” she said. “And seeing mzungus caring for a Ugandan child was very odd. It was not common and not always received well. And that part, we weren’t really prepared for or told to expect.”
Controversy was also brewing within Uganda over loosely regulated international adoptions in which birthparents were sometimes tricked by unlicensed agencies into giving up children.
Unlike those horror stories, the Glanzers had met Mae’s birth mother, Evelyn, who visited throughout their stay. She’d been unable to walk or stand properly since birth, a challenge for anyone in resource-plagued Uganda, let alone a mother — the Glanzers have no idea who the birth father is — raising her child.
Carrie returned to Uganda 13 months later to adopt Brynn — who had been orphanage bedmates with Kaatri — and again met Evelyn to update her on Mae’s new life. She’d started skating lessons at the Bellingham Sportsplex, which would lead to playing hockey by age 4.
“We showed Evelyn videos of Mae skating, and it was eye-opening for her because she couldn’t walk and hadn’t been sure what Maealie would physically be able to do,” she said. “Trying to explain the concept of ice was very difficult. I said, ‘So, have you ever had ice cubes?’ And she said, ‘No.’ So, I told her, ‘When water gets very cold, it freezes into a solid.’ And then she goes, ‘She has knives on her feet,’ and so I explained skates.”
They’ve continued written updates and photos twice a year, broadly outlining Mae’s hockey rise from boys leagues conditioning her for physical play to current all-girls squads where she eased her aggressiveness (girls play is noncontact) and embraced the game’s mental side.
Her Sno-King Junior Thunderbirds in April went further than any prior Washington team at the USA Hockey national championship tournament in Pennsylvania, finishing third in the 14-under 2A category. Glanzer, a year younger than many competitors, had a team-high three goals and one assist in five games.
Beyond digging out loose pucks and going to the net, Glanzer’s speed and quick thinking set her apart. She hopes it leads to a pro career and Team USA Winter Olympics consideration by 2030.
Hockey’s most notable African-born player is Kennewick resident and longtime Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig, a South African native of German descent. South Africa is the continent’s only International Ice Hockey Federation member.
They play only field hockey in Uganda. Soccer is most popular, and the country’s marathoners and sprinters are internationally acclaimed. The Glanzers plan their first return visit as a family next summer so the adoptees — there’s also a biological daughter, 8-year-old Daphne — can learn more.
“We’re trying to make it a priority,” Brandon Glanzer said. “I don’t know whether you’d call it a heritage trip, but it’s a family trip we think is important.”
Maealie Glanzer isn’t opposed to seeing her birth mother and homeland she can’t really remember.
“It’s not uncomfortable or anything,” she said. “It’s just a part of life.”
But her focus remains here, where she’s often the lone Black player on teams or in entire tournaments. She hopes to change that — whether through on-ice play, public messaging or volunteering as a coach at “Try Hockey for Free” programs to draw others into the sport.
“No one’s born into something,” she said. “You have to grow into what you want to be. And there’s never a clear path. I just grew into being athletic, and that’s kind of the path I chose.”
One she hopes others might follow, regardless of where they’re from.