In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the Women’s Sports Foundation continues the ‘It Takes a Journey’ digital content series by speaking with Olympic hockey champion Kendall Coyne Schofield.
Ice hockey star Kendall Coyne Schofield became a household name when she made history as the first woman to compete in an NHL skills competition at the NHL All-Star Weekend in January. She threw down a one-lap time of 14.346 seconds in the fastest skater event, beating out Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller for seventh place in a moment that later went viral, inspiring young hockey players across the country. In the coming weeks, Coyne Schofield received a flood of videos and photos of young girls on skates imitating their hero.
The skills competition was not the first time Coyne Schofield has made history. She and her U.S. National Women’s Hockey teammates threatened to boycott the 2017 Women’s Ice Hockey World Championships, citing gender inequities within USA Hockey. Eventually, the groups reached a deal that saw improved pay and treatment toward the women’s team and a year later, they won the team’s first Olympic gold in 20 years.
WSF caught up with Coyne Schofield to talk about her history-making moments, paving the way for the next generation of hockey stars and Women’s History Month.
WSF: How did you initially get into hockey?
KC: I started playing hockey because of my older brother, Kevin. My parents brought me to the rink to watch him play, and as a three-year-old I said I wanted to do what he does. Girls were predominantly figure skating at the time. So, my parents got me figure skates and after a week in them, I cried and said I wanted to do what my brother was doing, I wanted hockey skates.
WSF: Then, years later, you and your team are fighting for equal pay. What was that experience like and why was that the time to take a stand?
KC: It was an overwhelming experience. What sticks out to me now, almost three years later, was the bond we shared because of that experience, the unity we were able to show. It was an incredible process, it was a learning process and there have been so many women who have taken a stance before us and those were the people that we leaned on for support and motivation and encouragement when times got tough during our boycott.
WSF: You all broke barriers there, and then this year you did it again in a different way at the NHL skills competition. What made that moment so powerful?
KC: It was a moment that broke a lot of barriers and just showed the world that women belong in the sport of ice hockey. It took a hard lap around the arena with the NHL’s platform for people to realize that. I’m so excited because it’s changing the landscape of our game. People are excited about women’s hockey and they’re coming out to watch us play. There are so many young people, girls and boys, picking up sticks and playing because of it.
WSF: The videos of young girls on skates have been flooding in ever since. Why is it important to you to get more girls into hockey?
KC: It’s so important to encourage young people, girls and boys, to get involved in sport because it teaches you so many life lessons beyond the game itself. You are able to create so many lifelong friendships, there are so many attributes such as teamwork, time management skills, patience, hard work, the list goes on.
WSF: Can you talk about being a role model to all of those girls and what that means to you?
KC: As an elite athlete, being a role model is the most important aspect. You are the voice for the future. You are able to encourage and support and inspire young girls to play hockey. Just seeing all of the videos from that moment, I was overwhelmed. I hope they keep coming because that means there is more girls picking up hockey.
I remember when I met my first female role model at 7, Cammi Granato. I still to this day remember the empowering feeling she gave me to want to chase this dream of going to the Olympic Games and winning this medal. Here I am 20 years later and trying to inspire girls like she inspired me. Just knowing how important that moment was in my life, if I can provide a girl with that moment today, it’s incredible. It’s really special.
It was a moment that broke a lot of barriers and just showed the world that women belong in the sport of ice hockey. It took a hard lap around the arena with the NHL’s platform for people to realize that.
WSF: Even just 20 years ago when you were growing up, there was very little exposure to women’s sports. How did you find female role models, and what was the importance of looking up to women in sport?
KC: Besides Cammi, there really weren’t any. It was tough in school. There was a lot of name-calling, people telling me to go play sports that normal girls play. When I met Cammi at her camp after the ’98 Olympics, I was enamored by all of the girls that were there. I didn’t know there were so many girls who played hockey. Sometimes it’s coming together as a girls’ hockey community and realizing there are other girls who play. Now there’s no problem with that, there are so many girls who play.
I met Cammi, but at the same time I was watching the Chicago Blackhawks and going to Blackhawks games. Those were the players that I watched as a young hockey player. But being able to physically meet Cami changed my life. That’s why it’s so important to me to get out in the community and be accessible to kids, to answer questions, to show my medals and really showcase what we do.
Going back to that NHL moment, that’s why that moment was so big. Our team doesn’t always have the opportunity to be on TV. By being able to be on TV during that moment, there were so many people that saw women’s hockey existed. I think that turned the tables for people to show interest.
WSF: March is Women’s History Month. Is there a woman from history who has inspired or influenced you?
KC: There are quite a few, but as I’ve gotten older and been able to face my own discrimination and adversity and understand the principles behind the business side of sport, Billie Jean King is someone that I’ve looked up to. Every woman looks up to her, but what she’s done, I’m speechless. She’s someone we can all look to for guidance and strength when we’re trying to fight for the future.
Want more Women’s History Month content? Check out content with other top women in sport: