“Olympic Gold Medalist” is a title few people can ever attach to their email signature line. Not that most of them who canwould do that, but they could, nonetheless. But it’s a title that, once earned, can’t be taken away.
So is “College Graduate.”
Sarah Hughes owns both. And even now, she’s quick to remember the value of both accomplishments.
“It was unbelievable just to be a part of the Olympic team,” Hughes said when I caught up with her via email earlier this month. “And then for what happened after I made the team, well, as you can imagine, the 2002 Games was everything I ever dreamed of and more.”
But she never intended to stop there, even with such a significant dream fulfilled.
“Getting a college education was very important to me since I was in grade school,” she added. “I always knew I wanted to go to college and be there at the same time as other kids my age.”
Since graduating from Yale University in 2009, Hughes has stayed plenty busy utilizing both hard-earned titles. No, her love for the sport was certainly not lost in the shuffle of term papers and take-home finals. In fact, she’s almost more involved than ever, using her Olympic glory as a launching pad for enough activities to make your head spin.
She’s working with Figure Skating in Harlem, speaking at US Figure Skating dinners, being inducted into yet another Hall of Fame (this time it’s Nassau County’s Sports Hall of Fame), dropping in on the Kentucky Derby, attending charity dinners, and traveling to schools to share the values of being fit…to name a few.
In her spare time (whenever that is!) she’s busied herself with a new project — one fans will be delighted to see.
Hughes is writing a book.
“I’ve been working on it for over a year,” she said, “[I’m] writing it entirely myself without any ghostwriters, and have been greatly enjoying the process.”
She hopes to share the book about the sport “soon,” and she certainly has the experience to write from.
Speaking of her experience, I couldn’t go without asking her what she still remembers about her Olympic moment some nine years ago. The answer?
“I remember everything.”
It was Sarah’s night, that’s for sure. While the world weighed in on Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskya, the young New Yorker slipped to center ice, ready to take advantage of her moment on Salt Lake City’s Olympic ice. Whatever would be, would be. Little did any of us know just what that would mean.
“I was the first American to skate that night,” Hughes recalled. “The audience was going crazy when my name was announced, before I even started, and was chanting ‘USA! USA! USA!'”
The cheering didn’t let up after she skated, either. With her place on the podium yet to be determined, she knew — as did the world — that she had done all she could possibly do. And for the girl who had dreamed of Olympic ice since she was 9 years old, that would have been enough.
“Before I stepped off the ice, I turned around, surrounded by a sea of stuffed animals and flowers, and looked up, taking the whole moment in,” Hughes said. “I wanted to remember that moment, that feeling forever. It was really just amazing, and much more than a skating performance.”
Of course, winning Olympic Gold didn’t hurt…
It’s funny, really, how quickly time goes by.
That we have crowned two sets of Olympic champions since Sarah won in 2002 seems impossible. For Sarah, though, both Games have had a very special connection.
“It was really great to see Evan win gold [in Vancouver] because we had our first international competition together when we were 11 years old and I’ve watched how dedicated and smart he was about his journey,” she remembered.
And, of course, who could forget the sisterly excitement as the younger Hughes, Emily, competed in Torino.
“Not many sisters can share an Olympic bond like that,” Sarah said. “I was such a proud older sister.”
Despite the drought the US ladies have seen since 2006, Sarah is quite confident the sizzle that defined the US dominance for so many years is just around the corner.
“We have strong skating programs and well-funded rinks in the country, some of the best coaches in the world and good younger skaters who will improve and do well if they continue on the path they are on,” she said. “When we become so used to having the best skaters in the world, which we have had for so long, it’s easy to forget how difficult it really is and begin to take advantage of it a bit. But I look forward to seeing American women thrive and dominate on the world stage again soon.”
Meanwhile, it’s the off season, and which means plenty of other activities to focus on.
“I was born into a hockey-centric family but have also grown to be a big tennis fan and I really enjoy baseball too,” Hughes said. “I like most sports and I enjoy learning about new ones. I went to my first Giants football game this past season.”
And like the true New Yorker she is, Sarah didn’t hesitate to continue on about all the city has to offer:
“Besides being home to a lot of professional sports teams, we get to host prime international events like the US Open. We also have a big arts scene, theatre, fashion, music and restaurants. And you can satiate such diverse interests in the same day. I mean, there is a zoo with polar bears in Central Park!”
But one of her favorite events takes her straight back to the sport she loves: Sunday afternoon skates with her (adorable!) twin nieces.
“They always make me laugh!” she said.
Even with a title as lofty as “Olympic Champ,” sometimes life really is all about the little things.