Five little words were all it took to start 3-time Olympian, and 5-time World Champion Julie Chu on the path to where she is today.
Just five words changed her life forever.
“Girls can play hockey too.”
She read the words on a poster while attending one of her brother’s hockey games when she was eight years old, and she’s never looked back. “I always say that hockey found me,” remarks Julie when asked how she got into the sport in the first place. Hockey did find Julie that day at the rink, but there’s more to the story than that. The words that sparked an interest would have meant nothing without the support of her loving family. Julie and her sister, Christina, initially participated in figure skating while their brother, Richard, played hockey. Julie knew very quickly that she wanted to be part of something more. Watching the boys play hockey, she saw the camaraderie and dynamism of the game we all know and love, and she knew she had to be a part of it.
Instead of persuading her to stick with the more traditionally feminine route of figure skating, Julie’s parents laced her up in hockey skates and supported her decision to play. From the moment her skates carved the ice, she was hooked. Even the simplest of drills brought her joy. She recalls spending hours skating in figure-8’s repeatedly, smiling with glee just to be playing hockey.
This Olympic season, Julie has teamed up with Bounty who is providing Olympians a unique opportunity to give their mothers a rare moment in the spotlight. Usually we tend to focus solely on athletes, but through Bounty’s efforts and P&G’s “Thank You Mom” campaign, Julie and her fellow Olympians can give their mothers well deserved credit.
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Not only was Julie lucky enough to have the encouragement of her parents, the boys she skated with also treated her as “just another hockey player.” In fact, any chirping about her as a female athlete actually came from parents of opposing teammates. Unfortunately, women still have many hurdles to jump when it comes to being treated as “just another athlete,” but if anyone can help break down that barrier, I believe Julie Chu could.
Julie has participated in the Olympic Winter Games for the past three consecutive competitions, and she is not ready to stop now. She and the rest of the women’s ice hockey hopefuls train on-ice six days a week, and off-ice for three. Julie hasn’t yet won gold at the Olympic stage, but heading into Sochi, gold is all that’s on the women’s minds. Julie, like the rest of us, gets caught up in the spirit of Team USA. Beyond women’s – and even men’s – ice hockey, she roots for all of her fellow Olympians.
And they root for her too.
Julie and her teammates watched most of the men’s games in 2010 and cheered them on. The gesture was reciprocated as the men followed the women as well. She remembers after one particular game Ryan Miller, MVP of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic hockey tournament, congratulated them on their excellent play.
As someone who passionately supported the men’s team in Vancouver, but didn’t know much at the time about the women’s team, I asked Julie what makes watching the U.S. Women’s National Team special and why America should be watching both hockey teams this coming Olympics. She remarked that when most people watch women’s hockey, they are surprised at how fast it really is. There is also a misconception that there isn’t a lot of contact, but women’s hockey can be physical too. Most of all, watching women’s hockey is incredible because we get to see women that simply love the game. Just talking with Julie, anyone could hear the passion she has for the sport. Any obstacles she or her teammates ever had to face as female players only seem to strengthen their resolve to participate in a male-dominated culture.
I asked Julie to share with us the best advice she’s ever received in her career, and it has become a mantra for her not just in hockey, but when facing any other challenges that come her way. Exhausted during one particular game, not sure she could keep battling, her coach assured her, “You are capable of more than you think.” It’s a message we can all take to heart, whether we are Olympic athletes or not. Last of all, I asked what advice she herself would give to young women who would like to follow in her skate strides…
She would remind us to make sure we love what we do and play with a smile. Often, people make the mistake of thinking that if you are having fun, you are not working hard enough. But in the end hockey is just a game, and whether you’re looping cones in figure-8’s or skating your heart out in pursuit of Olympic gold, a smile and a deep love for the game will take you farther than you could ever fathom.