Angela Ruggiero: Busy Life In 'Retirement'
|Hockey player Angela Ruggiero attends the 32nd Annual Salute To
Women In Sports Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on Oct. 19, 2011
in New York City.
Angela Ruggiero represented Team USA in four Olympic Winter Games as one of the most dominant women’s ice hockey players in the world. She earned a gold medal at the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, her Olympic debut, and closed her career with four Olympic medals (gold, two silver and bronze). Ruggiero, who played defense, became the first female non-goalie to play professional ice hockey when she joined the Central Hockey League in 2005.
Ruggiero announced her retirement in December 2011.
Although Ruggiero stopped playing hockey, she didn’t exactly kick back and laze in a rocking chair.
In fact, she is probably busier than she ever has been. A Harvard graduate, Ruggiero worked as an intern for a hedge-fund management group and has one year remaining on her MBA at Harvard Business School. She also became president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, succeeding Laila Ali earlier this year. She is on the U.S. Olympic Committee Board of Directors as well as a member of the International Ice Hockey Federations’ Athletes Council.
As if that didn’t put enough on her “to do” list, she also travels the globe in her role on the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission. TeamUSA.org caught up with Ruggiero while she was attending the IOC Athletes’ Forum in Singapore in June, and again before she headed to the 125th IOC Session which begins Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At that IOC Session, a new IOC president will be elected, a host city for 2020 will be determined and the future of several sports will be decided.
Of course, you cannot talk with Ruggiero and not discuss women’s hockey, which will be played for a fifth time during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The Opening Ceremony for those Winter Games is set for Feb. 7.
Here is a snapshot into the busy life of Angela Ruggiero:
TeamUSA.org: You were very active and presented a panel in Singapore at the IOC Athletes’ Forum in June. What are some of the big issues facing Olympic and Paralympic athletes today?
Ruggiero: One big issue is with social media. Obviously, I’m active on Twitter and have a personal Facebook page, and I use Skype, Google Plus and other mediums to connect with fans and colleagues. I love social media and it is important for athletes to talk about rules and policy changes and to make sure we use social media so athletes can get the latest information on issues such as Rule 40 (which involves athletes’ marketing rights) and doping rules.
But there are a lot of issues for the athletes. One issue we discussed was the long waiting time for athletes for the Opening Ceremony and another was the code of conduct in the Olympic Village so people staying in the village will be quiet at certain times.
Almost every (National Organizing Committee) was represented at the meeting and it was great to meet face to face with athletes from around the world. You need that personal connection, and then from there, you can use social media to enhance that connection. You meet so many amazing athletes. I met a Cuban volleyball player and a taekwondo player from Korea and then there were athletes such as (two-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer) Alexander Popov and (Olympic champion pole vaulter) Sergei Bubka.
TeamUSA.org: You wear a lot of hats these days as an IOC member, USOC board member and now as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. What are your primary goals with the Women’s Sports Foundation?
Ruggiero: It’s kind of funny because I always have had the Women’s Sports Foundation cap on wherever I am. As a team, we won the sports team of the year award with the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1998 (the U.S. women's ice hockey team won the gold when the sport made its Olympic debut in Nagano) and I have stayed involved ever since, going to the awards dinners and things like that. I have always been impressed with all the work they do to fight for Title IX and opportunities for women in sports. In 2009, I became part of the board, and now I’m president.
Right now, one of the big issues we are working with is with sexual and physical misconduct in sport. We’re working with the USOC and the SafeSport Working Group to address these issues. I’m a part of that working group and as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, we’re addressing this issue as well. We’re still in the process of gathering information to present to the USOC board.
TeamUSA.org: Although you will not be on the ice playing hockey in Sochi, you will be very busy there. What will you be doing during the Winter Games?
Ruggiero: I will be in Sochi, and I will be staying in the (Athletes’) Village (the 126th IOC Session and subsequent commission meetings will take place during the Games). There will be an athletes’ commission election and I will be there to take questions from athletes. One of the great honors I will have as an IOC member is that I get to hand out medals. Of course, I already put my name in to hand out the gold medals for the women’s hockey competition, so I hope to give those out to the U.S. team. Anita DeFrantz (an IOC member and chair of the Women and Sport Commission) gave me all four of my Olympic medals.
I was in London and I got to give out the medals for the women’s soccer competition (which Team USA won) and Greco-Roman wrestling. London was the first time I went to the Games as a spectator, and I got to see a lot of events — handball, basketball, water polo, soccer. Tennis was so cool because it was at Wimbledon.
I would like to see some events while I am in Sochi, and that’s one of the benefits of being an IOC member is that you can go as a spectator. It’s important to stay attuned to how the Games are being organized so you can understand if anything could be improved. I love short track speedskating and would like to see some of that. Of course, I will see some hockey, too.
TeamUSA.org: As much fun as it is to be a spectator at the Olympic Games, I am sure it will be a little bittersweet in Sochi since it will be the first Winter Games you will go to without suiting up for Team USA. Can you describe the emotions you think you might experience come February?
Ruggiero: Certainly going to Sochi is going to be difficult as a spectator. I’m going to be sitting on the sidelines at the hockey games a little on the edge of my seat. But I feel like I retired at the right time and I have moved on to more of an advocacy role.
TeamUSA.org: Would you ever consider coaching?
Ruggiero: Maybe somewhere down the line. I really like coaching kids. I love coaching, but I think I am heading more down the administrative side of things.
I think it’s very important that athletes get an education. I don’t want to see athletes get pigeonholed and people say, ‘Oh you’re going to be a coach.’ A lot of athletes give, give, give (to their sport) and then they retire, but if they don’t have an education then their options in the future are limited.
TeamUSA.org: What do you think of the U.S. women’s team’s chances heading into Sochi?
Ruggiero: To be honest, I haven’t been around the team a lot and have tried to keep my distance because it’s not my team anymore. Of course, I still talk and text with individuals on the team and Boston is my stomping ground and I’ve known (U.S. coach) Katey Stone for a long time, and they know I am definitely in their corner. If they need my help with anything at this point heading into Sochi, they know I will be there. I had such an amazing experience with hockey and with Team USA that if I can give back anything I will.
I’m literally across from their offices when I’m at business school so I am right there if they need me!
But if I’m in Sochi and I get to hand out medals to the women’s hockey players, I want to give Team USA the gold medals. I’m finally cheering from the stands, but I want them to win.
They have a pretty young team with a lot of newer players that I knew when they were rookies. Katey Stone will do a great job and I’m excited to see her coach this team.
TeamUSA.org: Speaking of Katey Stone, she will be the first woman to coach the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team. As a former women’s player, that has to be a pretty important milestone for the sport.
Ruggiero: It’s phenomenal. I’ve known her since I was 18 and came to Harvard for the first time. She’s won the most games (among NCAA Division I women’s hockey teams with 402 victories). To finally see her at this stage is great and she’s put herself in a great position with this team and deserves the opportunity to coach this team.
TeamUSA.org: One of the big issues the IOC members will vote on in Argentina has to do with the inclusion of a sport. Three different sports organizations (baseball/softball, wrestling and squash) are vying for one spot in the Games. You get to vote. What is it like to be an athlete voting on this issue?
Ruggiero: It is a big responsibility, and I take it very seriously. I’ve had wrestlers, squash players and softball players contact me, and it’s crazy that someone’s fate is in your hands.
TeamUSA.org: Can you relate in a way since the future of women’s hockey appeared in doubt back in 2010?
Ruggiero: With our sport, I’m really happy that people were talking about (the future being in doubt) because certain federations hadn’t done anything about improving the game for women. Now you are seeing countries like Russia that have very strong men’s programs, finally on the podium on the women’s side. (Russia took the bronze medal at the 2013 world championships for the first time since 2001.) I sympathize with sports that have been taken off the program, and I have done everything in my power to improve my sport. You constantly need to improve.
TeamUSA.org: So it sounds like in a strange way you’re saying maybe the best thing for women’s hockey was to have that looming threat of being removed from the Winter Games so the sport could be improved?
Ruggiero: Yes. Guess what happened after Vancouver? The (International Ice Hockey Federation) hired a women’s director for the very first time. There’s a budget now for the women’s game. Maybe that was the push. Every sport should be evolving and improving.
TeamUSA.org: I realize you are limited in what you can say about the election of an IOC president, but what do you hope to see in the next president after these elections?
Ruggiero: In general, I would say that I was voted on to the IOC to represent the athletes, so from an athlete perspective, I want to elect the president who is going to uphold the athletes’ rights and help lead the Movement for the athletes through the next decade.
They are all good candidates and they all have interesting messaging. In the end, it’s all about trust and relationships.
TeamUSA.org: Have you had much personal interactions with the candidates?
Ruggiero: Yes, absolutely. I have definitely had a chance to meet all of them and it’s definitely a small enough organization that you do interact with pretty much everybody. It’s pretty cool to hear and learn from them, too. One, I enjoy hearing what they’ve done and two, what they’re doing. That’s our common language. Just getting this inside exposure and seeing how things work in a different light. I’m getting the full back stories now.
TeamUSA.org: Thanks for giving us some of the back stories as well, Angela.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she has covered two Olympic Games and two Olympic Winter Games. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.