March is Girls Sports Month, and as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ third-annual Girls Sports Month celebration, we’re speaking with some of the most influential female athletes, coaches and celebrities in the sports world.
Today, we connect with Meghan Duggan, a three-time ice hockey Olympic champion who also competes for the Boston Pride of the NWHL. Captain of the recent gold medalist with U.S. hockey’s champion team in PyeongChang, the Danvers, Mass. native was also a member of the national teams in 2010 and 2014. A college star at Wisconsin, Duggan was the recipient of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s best collegiate player.
GIRLS SPORTS MONTH: See more athlete interviews here
USA TODAY: Congratulations on the gold medal! Can you tell us more about your experiences in PyeongChang?
MEGHAN DUGGAN: I don’t think we could have written it up any better. It was a dream come true in the full strength of the phrase. A lot of us have dreamed of winning a gold medal for 20 years since the 1998 team. To win one after everything we’ve been through and what we stood up with last spring is really incredible. To be able to bring that back to our families and the U.S., it takes the words right out of my mouth.
USAT: What role did the collective group fight for fair pay and benefits in 2017 play in the team’s success at the Olympics?
MD: What we went through last Spring put our team in a vulnerable place. Being able to create that kind of a bond gave us a lot of momentum and energy in our team and our sport and it helped carry us through this last year. When you go through something like that together it’s pretty powerful. Anytime you win a gold medal it’s a great feeling, but to be able to make such a public stance last spring first was great, but we wanted to win the gold medal for 20 years to inspire the next generation and national pride.
USA TODAY: When did you first know that you wanted sports to be a critical part of your life?
MEGHAN DUGGAN: I feel probably out of the womb. I’ve been an athlete since I was a little kid. I played hockey, soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse. I always wanted to be on teams competing and running around. I was a three sport athlete throughout childhood and high school even after committing to play hockey. Sports have always provided so much energy and positivity in my life. People I met through sports really have changed my life. I can’t imagine it any other way. Playing for Team USA became a lifelong dream when they won in Nagano. I was 10 and that lit the fire for me to compete on a world stage. I told everyone I knew I was going to play for Team USA some day.
USAT: Why is participation in sports so important for girls today?
MD: There are so many reasons. The relationships I’ve forged, the confidence it gave me both as a young girl and a woman, there’s no substitute for that. Being a part of a team and being involved in sports, sometimes things are great and sometimes they aren’t. You win games and you lsoe some, and having those opportunities as a young girl, you learn a lot about sports and what you stand in and believe in. I believe in the power of sports so much for young girls and it helped shape me into who I am today. It’s the camaraderie and the confidence that is so remarkable.
USAT: What was your favorite sport growing up, and why?
MD: It was definitely hockey. I’ve always been partial to hockey and growing up in Boston I was a big Bruins fan and I had an opportunity to be coached in baseball by Ray Borque. I’ve always been a big hockey and Bruins fan.
USAT: What is the biggest life lesson you took away from competition?
MD: I’ve been through so many ups and downs in sport. Four years ago this was utter devastation in going through so much and then losing a gold medal game. You put everything in your life on hold for that moment and to come up short was really challenging. But myself and my teammates picked ourselves up, looked ourselves in the mirror and figured out how we were going to move forward, that was life changing. Resiliency, that was a remarkable thing to learn and take away from all that.
USAT: Why is being a role model for younger girls important to you?
MD: When I was 10 I met a player on the 1998 team and she shared her experience and medal with me and I just told everyone I was going to play for Team USA. When I think about my last 20 years and how that experience has shaped ultimately where I went to school, what teams I was on, what I ate and how I slept every day. That shaped every interaction based on meeting her once when I was 10. Now being in that position and having the opportunity to potentially change some kids life, that’s something I take a lot of pride in and some of my teammates as well. We wanted to be able to come back to the U.S. with a platform to be able to inspire young kids to take up hockey. That has been our clear mission since day one.
USAT: What should girls do who don’t have access to a sport they want to play?
MD: That’s a bigger issue if there are girls anywhere that don’t have access to sports. We want to promote everyone be involved in sports, but if they don’t, have them come get in touch with us, because that’s how passionately our team feels about young girls and boys being involved in sports.
USAT: Did where you grew up play a role in your development?
MD: Where I’ve grown up and my extended family and all my group, my whole town and local area has been behind me since Day 1. They all remembered for 20 years where I said I would win a gold medal one day. I learned to play in the Danvers youth hockey learn to skate program. I played all the levels going up.
USAT: What else do you think is important for girls to know about sports and participating in them?
MD: It’s a great way to interact and form relationships! Some of the greatest things I’ve learned about sports is that it isn’t easy and it’s challenging. But if you love it and enjoy it you can learn a lot about yourself through those challenges.