Angela Ruggiero is one of the most-decorated ice hockey players in the history of the sport. With an Olympic gold medal, two silvers and a bronze and four World Championship golds, her name sits with Cammi Granato, Angela James, Wayne Gretsky and Mario Lemieux at the top of the all-time greatest list.
Not just a star on the ice, Ruggiero graduated cum laude with a degree in government from Harvard University in 2004. She then went on to earn a Master’s degree in Sports Management from the University of Minnesota; after announcing her retirement from ice hockey in 2011, Ruggiero returned to Boston and is currently working toward an MBA at Harvard Business School. She sits on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States’ Olympic Committee’s (USOC) Board of Directors.
We are thrilled to have someone with such an impressive pedigree serve as the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation. She succeeds Laila Ali and will serve a two-year term. Last week, we sat down with Ruggiero to talk about her new leadership role, her work with the IOC and what our mission means to her.
Women’s Sports Foundation: In becoming President of the Women’s Sports Foundation, you are joining a list that includes pioneering female athletes like Julie Foudy, Laila Ali and Nancy Lieberman. What does it mean to you to take the torch from the amazing women who have served in the position?
Angela Ruggiero: I got involved with the WSF in 1998 when our team won the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year (Team) award after we won Gold in Nagano that same year. It was the first time I was really exposed to what the Foundation did and I was able to meet some of these women you mention and hear their stories. I was really captivated and inspired.
Now fast forward 15 years and here I am as the President of the WSF — it’s very special to me. The women who have laid the foundation have also given me very big shoes to fill. Fortunately, I have been able to see the WSF Past Presidents in action and have seen what they’ve done to empower women in sport, to give more opportunity to women in sport. I’m really psyched to be involved in this cause. It’s overwhelming so I am anxious to start and I recognize that some amazing women before me to set the stage.
WSF: What facet of the Foundation’s work is most important to you? What are your top goals for your new role?
AR: Title IX advocacy really matters to me – making sure that the law is safe. I think when we succeed, we overlook the fact that Title IX isn’t permanent — it could go away. When young female athletes don’t know what Title IX is, that’s great, it means we’ve done our work. But it’s also unfortunate because these young athletes don’t know the history and how far we’ve come. I want to work on strengthening the power of Title IX.
The work we do with young people is also very important to me. Whether it’s the GoGirlGo! program or the mentoring that comes with it, or the grants we give…just being able to give young athletes the chance to benefit from sport is amazing.
The third thing I’m interested in is creating more opportunities for current athletes to champion the Foundation and our mission – they are our best spokespeople. Because I’m one of these athletes, I look forward to integrating my peers more into the everyday work of the Foundation such as honoring women in sports at our Annual Salute, inspiring girls through the GoGirlGo! curriculum, or lobbying on Capitol Hill for health and fitness-related opportunities for all youth.
WSF: In 2010, you were voted onto the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes Commission, one of the IOC’s highest honors. How will your work with the IOC complement your work with the WSF? And vice-versa?
AR: I am in a really interesting place with my roles at both the IOC and WSF. I sit on four commissions now with the IOC – Athletes’ Commission, Athlete Entourage Commission, 2018 Games Coordination, as well as chairing the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games committee. I am also a part of the USOC’s Board of Directors. At the heart of all these different responsibilities is an advocacy role, a role to help the athletes of the world receive the resources and support that they deserve and need to be successful. Whether that’s fighting for gender equality or equality in any other realm, I always have the WSF and things I’ve learned over the years in the back of my head.
It also works both ways. The learnings, the people who I meet, I will bring that back to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Maybe it’s being a bridge between the organizations or bringing the advocacy work that I’ve helped with over the years at the WSF…my two roles are not a conflict, but rather a great opportunity.
WSF: While talented, most girls will never reach the level of success in their sport that you have had in yours. Still, we know just how important it is that they simply have the opportunity to play. Tell us why it’s important to you.
AR: I grew up playing a sport that wasn’t really accepting of women and it wasn’t a popular sport to begin with — I played hockey in Southern California. For me, simply having the opportunity as a seven-year-old to lace up my skates and get on the ice and fall in love with the sport changed my life. I have been given so many opportunities in my life because of sport.
Sport to me is so much more than the outcome. It’s having the chance to learn about yourself, learning the intangibles that you will take with you for the rest of your life. That to me is what drives me to make sure all children have the chance the play and the opportunity to learn about setting goals, about pushing yourself past what you think is physically possible. Self-esteem, self- awareness, and all the things we talk about at the WSF will change a young girl’s life. I found my grades were always better when I was playing sports. I think there is a huge educational component to participation in athletics that can’t be ignored. Whether they go on to play in the Olympics or the NCAA or not, sports is a right that every young girl should have.
WSF: Not only are you an Olympic gold medalist, you are also a Harvard University graduate now working toward an MBA at Harvard Business School. Can you attribute your role as a leader on the ice to your sure-to-be leadership role in business? Why is sport the best avenue to teach girls how to be leaders not just on the field, but in life?
AR: Will I use the lessons I learned on the ice in my business life? Absolutely. Sometimes I surprise myself even now in the classroom! I have so many experiences I can draw from and then incorporate into a strategy or plan that helps me be successful. This is certainly the reason we see so many business leaders who attribute their professional success, in part,, to their days as an athlete.
Bottom line: girls learn to be a leader in life through sport; they learn to be a leader in their own lives through sport. Girls learn to make the right decisions, to say no to the influences that we have seen that cause girls to drop out of sport at twice the rate boys do at age 14. Teen pregnancy, risky behavior, low self-esteem…all these things that we point to…sport can help prevent.