|Ballet dancer Misty Copeland (left) and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow pose for a photo at the White House on Sept. 16, 2014.|
Caitlin Cahow has met President Obama before. Twice, in fact. Once after returning from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games with a silver medal in women’s ice hockey, her second Olympic medal, and again when she was appointed to the Presidential Delegations representing the U.S. at the 2014 Sochi Games’ Opening and Closing ceremonies.
The 29-year-old retired hockey player met the president again on Monday in a small reception in the White House Rose Garden before officially being sworn in as a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.
This time, Cahow found that shaking President Obama’s hand was a little bit different.
“He’s so thankful for people who are willing to step up when given the opportunity to lead,” she said by phone from Washington, D.C. “I know that he values what we’re doing in the council. It was a moving experience. I feel very blessed.”
The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition promotes programs and initiatives that motivate people to lead active, healthy lives through regular physical activity and good nutrition.
Cahow was appointed to the council in May — around the time that she graduated from Boston College Law School — but was sworn in at the council’s national meeting this week. Other appointees to the council this year included professional basketball player Jason Collins, retired NBA player and Olympic champion Alonzo Mourning, Food Network star Rachael Ray, along with experts in science and nutrition.
Cahow is the first hockey player to hold a position on the council.
“It’s really an eclectic group, which makes it a great group to work with,” she said.
Still coming up to speed on all of the council’s initiatives, Cahow is particularly interested in childhood nutrition programs and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, which the First Lady launched in February 2010 to solve the obesity epidemic in America.
Cahow is interested in the First Lady’s initiative to reform school lunches and ensure that kids get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise daily. At local schools, Cahow plans to speak about “the importance of staying active and exercising and really making it a lifelong pursuit, not just about competing on a sports team.”
She can draw on her own experience. Since retiring from hockey in 2013 — after recovering from two concussions in February 2012 — Cahow has hung up her skates and instead become more focused on outdoor activities like jogging, hiking, cycling and swimming, as well as yoga.
“It’s a pretty distinct departure from what I used to do,” she said. “But I feel great.”
She has, however, agreed to play in a men’s pick-up league with (brave) friends from the legal community in her new hometown of Chicago, where she is clerking for a judge in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Although she did not apply to law school with a specific career in mind, Cahow wanted to learn the language that could affect policy changes. Now, what she sees daily in bankruptcy court parallels what she aims to do on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.
“I’m learning a tremendous amount about what the law can do to try to help individuals who need to reorganize their lives and what’s lacking currently in our society as far as support,” she said. “That to me ties in perfectly, beautifully even, with what I’m doing with the council. There are resources out there. There are people who are willing to step up and help the mechanism. You just have to figure out how to make use of what we have.”
At the council’s annual meeting on Tuesday, she was inspired by the 30 school superintendents who spoke about how they were implementing better nutrition and exercise routines, as well as the eight youth ambassadors who presented projects that have helped their classmates and communities lead healthier lives.
One eighth grader started an activity trail at her school. Another created a cook-off, where participants were challenged to make a meal that kids would eat within a school lunch budget.
“I could just see her passion not only creating a healthy solution to a problem but doing it in a masterful way,” Cahow said. “She was able to work with what she was given, work within a budget, and come up with a creative solution. That just shows me that the future generation of Americans is spot on. They understand what’s going on.”
Cahow is no stranger to volunteer appointments or multitasking. The daughter of two former professors of surgery at Yale University, she once told a reporter that she wrote her Harvard undergraduate thesis while in China for the 2008 World Championships (which the U.S. won, giving Cahow one of her three world championship gold medals), and she applied to law school while training for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
For volunteerism, she has worked through the United States Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow program, which aims to assist those in need around the world. She has raised over $16,000 for the Susan G. Komen foundation, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, become a board member for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and she serves as an ambassador for the You Can Play Project.
Now Cahow adds President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition to this list.
“It’s an opportunity to become involved with the sport and nutrition movement in the United States, and that’s something I was really passionate about as an athlete but never really had the platform to affect change on a national level,” she said, still energized from the meeting.
“There’s so much to be done. Just listening to the teachers and students who spoke with me the past few days, I realized that there is the energy out there. People can make big, big changes to make our country a better place, and I want to be a part of that.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.