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Women’s History Month: Interview with Angela Ruggiero

This March as we celebrate Women’s History Month we would like to celebrate our history at the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) and the incredible and powerful women who have served as our Presidents and guided us.

Throughout the month we will feature a few of these wonderful women here on our S.H.E. Network, as well as all former WSF Presidents on our Instagram.

We celebrate Angela Ruggiero:
Angela Ruggiero is a true example of succeeding on and off the field of play, or in her case, the ice. Angela spent over 15 years as an ice hockey defenseman for Team USA, earning four Olympic medals and currently holds the record as the All-Time Leader in Games Played for Team USA. Angela was also the first woman non-goalie to play professional men’s hockey in North America, as the first female defenseman in the Central Hockey League, playing with the Tulsa Oilers alongside her brother, Bill.

Off the ice, Angela holds a B.A. in government and an M.B.A. from Harvard University. In 2010, Angela was elected to a highly regarded position as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission, where she helps bridge the gap between active athletes and the IOC.

A strong believer in the benefits sports have to offer girls and women of all ages, Angela served as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation for two years in 2013 and 2014 and continues to be an active voice for the organization. We spoke with Angela to ask her how she translates her skills on the ice to the business world, why it’s important to her that all girls have access to sports and more.

Question: What was the greatest lesson you learned from sports that has helped you succeed in the business world?

Answer: One of the big things that I learned from sports is the value and application of teamwork, particularly having been a team sport athlete. As one person has said, business is the scaling of ideas, but in order to make those ideas happen and in order to help businesses and help organizations run it takes people. You need to get a large number of people on the same page, working towards a common goal, while knowing their own individual roles within that team. This is something I can relate to as a team sport athlete for many years.

In business you’re trying to accomplish a goal. You have your strategy, you have your objectives and you have your different roles and responsibilities within your teams to try to achieve [your] goal. There are a lot of metaphors between sports and business but I’d say teamwork is really the thing that I constantly see that non-athletes, or non-team sport athletes, have a harder time with. I had years and years of repetition and practicing [teamwork] in my sports setting.

Question: All month long we are celebrating Women’s History Month, who do you admire most and why?

Answer: Well someone near and dear to all of our hearts is Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss. Both of them have been instrumental in not only forming the Women’s Sports Foundation but more broadly speaking, standing up for individual rights. Billie Jean obviously is a strong advocate of women’s rights, minority rights, LGBT rights, and she is just someone that stands up for everyone.

She is definitely someone that I have learned quite a bit from, especially having the fortunate opportunity to serve with her in my president capacity at the Foundation. In the sports world I’d say she’s someone that has advocated for equal rights for women on the playing field and you can see her footprint all over women’s sports.

Question: Before Title IX, 1 in 27 girls played sports and today that number is 2 in 5. While, we have seen progress, 60% of girls do not have access to sports and therefore are missing out on the benefits they provide. The Women’s Sports Foundation is dedicated to ensuring all girls access to sports. As a former President, why is it important to you that every girl has access to sports?

Answer: The immense benefits that you get from playing sports. I mean to me it isn’t about just elite athletes and having access to equal opportunities at that Olympic or NCAA level it’s all the lessons you learn and the intangible benefits that you can get that I think should resonate with both boys and girls. They should have access to that learning opportunity.

The UN Secretary General says sports are a human right. We finally have sports in the sustainable development goals report for the UN. I do a lot of work with the IOC and I have spoken on behalf of the IOC at the UN and obviously it is core to the mission of the Women’s Sports Foundation. So I think internationally now we are seeing sport isn’t just a luxury it’s literally a human right. It’s something that all people should do and learn about themselves and learn about working with others. There are so many different elements that go into and reasons that the access to sport is important, not just on the playing field but really how it translates off the playing field.

Question: Since being President at the WSF you have been very busy, from being inducted into the 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame, and traveling to Norway as Coordination Commission Chairperson for the 2016 Lillehammer Youth Olympic Games, to serving on the International Olympic Committee and working in Boston. To the next generation of girls who have big dreams, such as to be a professional athlete or work in the business world, what would you tell them?

Answer: My success has come partially I’d say because I focus on sport and academics at the same time. I went to Harvard Undergrad and I retired [from hockey] in 2011 and went back and got my business degree at Harvard right after. I then went on to get my masters in sports management at the University of Minnesota. So I love both. I love sports and I love education.

When I speak with young people, young student athletes, one question I always ask them is, I say, ‘raise your hand if your grades are better during your sport season’ and everyone raises their hand because you learn how to budget your time and you learn how to stay more focused in the classroom and on the playing field. So young people that want to have a career in sport or have a career in business or sports business, what I would say is you need 100% focus on whatever you’re doing but divide that focus so that you stay balanced.

I’ve always been someone that when I was on the rink I was a hockey player and I blocked out all the things that I had to do when I got back to my room. I was just a hockey player and I was focusing on our plays and our power plays and whatever my coach was telling me to focus on. When I went back to my dorm room, I was a student and I was focused on academics and not worried about all those things as an athlete but I got my homework done.

I think the sky is the limit right now. There are so many great opportunities for young women in the sports world not just as athletes but as administrators. You can work in the front-office. You can really do anything now and barriers are starting to be lifted in broadcasting, in coaching and in other areas that may have traditionally been just for the guys. So think big is the crux of it and stay focused. Don’t see gender as a barrier anymore just what is it that you want to accomplish in your life as an individual. Even if gender stands in the way at the present moment just keep pushing because you could be that pioneer that pushes the boundaries for everyone else.

Question: After retiring from professional hockey you went on to pursue an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School, from which you graduated in May 2014. What inspired you to go back to school and why is education important to you?

Answer: Going back to Harvard Business School (HBS) was actually one of the reasons I retired from hockey. I had played in four Olympics and I had achieved success in many different ways on the playing field and I knew at some point I was going to have to retire and start my second career, as I call it.

I’m starting my own company right now and so understanding what goes into doing that successfully is important. I think it’s fundamental to growing women’s sports, for example, because you need sound business models to grow women’s sports. It’s the right thing to do but I think you have to make a business case for it in a lot of different ways and understand the economics. So I really wanted to dive in deep. I saw thousands of cases while I was at HBS on how businesses work and then I was able to tailor that to the things that I want to aspire to do off of the ice. It was a great place for me to transition and I think going back to school is a natural place for a lot of athletes to end up.

Ernst & Young had a study that said 94% of women in the C-suite played sports. So I think there’s a pretty good correlation between playing sports and being successful in the boardroom at the administrative level. I encourage athletes to go into business because I think there’s a natural fit there.

Question: Why is fitness and health important to you and since retirement how do you to continue to incorporate it into your life?

Answer: I don’t work out as consistently as I did when I was training, obviously, and I actually noticed a huge difference not just physically but also mentally. My mind is actually clearer and more focused when I work out. It’s interesting that juxtaposition behind my job was to be a healthy person. My job was to train and sleep and eat right and go to the gym and all athletes, Olympic athletes, you are really healthy.

Then I went and worked at a hedge fund for a year and I was sitting in front of a computer and my back started hurting and I was like, ‘wow this is crazy.’ So, just knowing it and talking about it for years but then actually feeling it and the difference between when you’re taking care of yourself and when you’re not was important.

I still play adult hockey, pick up hockey on occasion, and I do yoga. I try to just go to the gym and incorporate a lot of the weights that I used to workout with. I picked up a little bit of squash. I’m kind of fiddling in a lot of different things. I have more time on my hands to try new sports. I went skiing when I was in Norway for the Youth Games so it’s a fun time for me. But, I think at the bottom of it, knowing how important it is to incorporate fitness into my daily life now I really see that.

Women’s History Month: Interview with Dominique Dawes >>

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