|Angela Ruggiero poses with her 2010 silver medal - the
fourth and final Olympic ice hockey medal she earned.
Because of their work, she was able to play hockey in college and for the U.S. women’s national team, compete on four medal-winning Olympic teams and follow her dreams into a sport that had once been the exclusive domain of boys and men.
Now that her playing career is over, she’s continuing the work of those pioneers.
“Paying it forward is absolutely a big piece,” she said of her post-hockey life. “I think most athletes want to give back. Finding the way is unique to each athlete, whether it’s coaching or administratively or on the policy side. I’m always thinking about ways to do it and get more people involved in sports and fitness.”
Since she retired from the national team in 2011, Ruggiero, 33, has thrown herself into new pursuits with the same energy and determination that made her a Hockey Hall of Famer and an honors graduate of Harvard University.
Ruggiero in January began a two-year term as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, succeeding boxer Laila Ali. She’s also a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ and Evaluation commissions, is on the board of directors of the U.S. Olympic Committee and in 2012 was selected to be part of the U.S. State Department’s Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports, organized by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ruggiero is now a first-year student at Harvard Business School working on her MBA, building on the master’s degree in sports management she earned at the University of Minnesota.
Almost all of her work — including her Angela Ruggiero Girls Hockey School, the time she’s devoted to non-profits and the ideas she’s hoping to develop as part of her studies at Harvard Business School — is connected to the pay-it-forward theme.
“It’s all tied together,” she said. “It’s pretty much the same message, giving people the opportunity to participate (in sports) and benefiting from that participation.”
Her latest challenge, as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, has her excited.
She first became acquainted with the Foundation when it selected her 1998 gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team as its Team of the Year. From that point on, Ruggiero took an interest in the organization and eventually joined its board in 2009.
As president, she’s looking forward to helping it build on what it’s done and take it in new directions.
“The board right now is discussing what the strategic direction should be,” she said. “Obviously Billie Jean King, she founded the Foundation, she’s been such a great leader for it, and figuring out what the next phase of the Foundation should be (is our goal). How we can continue to serve girls and women in sport and to what capacity.
“What are the important pieces? Is it participation? Is it media? Is it the grants the Foundation gives? Is it the Go Girl Go program? Is it the advocacy arm? So I think we need to think strategically about what is important to the Foundation.”
One of her goals, too, is to get more athletes involved. She knows and sees so many who have a strong desire to give back to their sports.
Ruggiero believes strongly that helping girls and women participate in sports provides far-reaching benefits that go beyond scoring a goal, making a basket or hitting a home run.
Learning the concepts of teamwork, competition and how to cope with adversity help women succeed in so many other areas. It becomes a plus for society as a whole.
The Foundation becomes a catalyst for all that, she said.
“What does sport represent outside of sport?” she asked. “I think that’s where the evolution is coming. These young girls and women that have the chance to play, similar to the boys, are having the opportunity to take it and use it in other areas of their life. That has to be, I think, what the Foundation will continue to highlight.
“They’re taking it to the business world. They’re using it in their communities. They’re using all the intangibles that you learn from competition and about yourself.
“It really isn’t about being an Olympian. … It’s the millions of girls that get to do it just like the boys, and anyone who’s ever played sports understands its power outside of sport. I think that is sort of the next phase of what the Foundation is. It’s allowing people to see that.”
Jumping into so many projects at once is part of Ruggiero’s master plan for a post-hockey life. She knew she’d need new avenues to channel her energy.
“A lot of athletes tend to overlook the fact that one day their careers will end and you need to plan for it,” she said. “You need to plan for what you want to do after sport. We all have phenomenal skills that can be applied again to the working world. …
You just have to figure out what you’re passionate about outside of competition.”
Though she’s left the national team, she hasn’t left hockey. She still plays in regular pickup games at Harvard.
“I played last night, and it was a pretty pathetic showing,” she said, laughing.
When the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games begin less than a year from now, she said she’s certain she’ll get pangs of regret that she’s not skating against the world’s best, trying to add to her medal collection of a gold, two silvers and a bronze.
Then again, there are days when she’s happy those days are gone.
“You know what, after 15 years, it’s kind of nice not to lug my stuff around,” she said with a laugh. “I’m super busy here at Harvard, so I almost don’t have time to think about what I’m missing. I know when Sochi rolls around, it’ll be sad. I’m sure I’ll have some withdrawal, but I try not to think about that.
“I always try to be forward-thinking and think about the next phase and what I’m going to be able to do now that I don’t have to be in the rink every day. I have all this extra opportunity to give back.
“Now I can use my experience to help others and give them the opportunities I had.”
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.