Many people want to know what it feels like to experience the Olympics as an athlete in competition. Growing up in Minnesota and having watched the historic success of the 1980 US Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team, I had always wondered myself. It was my dream as a child to win an Olympic Gold Medal, a dream I realized in 1998 on the ice in Nagano, Japan.
The try-out in Lake Placid was like every other USA Hockey evaluation camp, but the pressure of this camp was substantially greater. A selection to the team would mean one step closer to realizing my Olympic dream.
At the conclusion of the camp, the selected names were read alphabetically aloud in the gymnasium. The flurry of exchanged embraces that followed did little to stop the tears of the unlucky ones who had reached the end of the line. The lucky ones left the room to share the news with family and friends. I called my father. One step closer. Twenty six players were selected that day and by the holiday break the roster would be whittled down to twenty players. Those twenty players would represent the United States in the very first Olympic ice hockey competition for women.
The daily training intensified, and the competition among players vying for a spot on the first women’s Olympic team was increasingly obvious. Amidst the pressure and the daily competition something remarkable began to happen. We were coming together as a team. All of the daily stress became a strong adhesive bonding us all together in the face of uncertainty and doubt. Ask any member of that team from player to coach what was the strongest and most evident factor in defeating the Canadians to take the gold medal in Nagano and you will hear about the unique closeness of the team. We were family.
Walking into the Olympic Village in Nagano, I felt both exhilaration and terror. It was a feeling I had once before upon leaving my family, my friends, my home, and my known life to attend College in the East. Saying goodbye to my parents, watching them watch me as I drove away. It was the combination of exhilaration and true freedom coupled with the terror of the unknown that overwhelmed me. I began to cry. It was the moment I truly realized the outcome was in my hands. There was no turning back.
As an Olympic athlete you are given the opportunity to realize your dream only every four years if you are lucky. The day of competition there is no room for mistakes, no time to be off your game. For the athletes in Vancouver this year the pressure is enormous, the chance for failure great, but the desire to achieve their dreams is even greater.
We, as a team in 1998 had big dreams of sticks and gloves flying through the air in celebration and gold medals; but at the end of the day, more than anything, we all just wanted to make our families, our coach and our country proud.