|Gretchen Ulion Silverman ’90, center, connected with the 2009 LC girls hockey team and brought along her Olympic gold medal during a visit to campus last spring.|
Bobbi: What was it like competing in the Olympics?
Gretchen:I had been skating since around age 3 and playing hockey since age 6. As a little girl, I always dreamed of playing for the Hartford Whalers. I didn't understand at the time that that was an unrealistic goal. However, I had the drive to compete from a young age, and being the only girl in an all boys league helped to hone my competitive edge.
I watched the 1980 Miracle on Ice and replayed those moments over and over in my basement street hockey games with my brothers. So when the idea of a U.S. women’s national hockey team began to take form during my years at Loomis Chaffee, I set a more reasonable goal for myself of one day competing at the international level with Team USA.
I made my first national team in 1994 as a senior in college and competed with the team for two years before being cut. That was the greatest gift, though I didn't see it that way then. A dose of disappointment was just what I needed to motivate myself to become strong enough mentally and physically to make the first women's Olympic team in 1998 at age 26.
Competing in the Olympics was incredible, because of the long road that I had taken to get there and the many challenges I overcame on the way: 23 years of playing a sport I loved to finally compete at the highest level. Words can't describe the overwhelming emotion one feels when walking with Team USA in the Opening Ceremonies of their first Olympics.
Bobbi: What will you be thinking of as you watch the Opening Ceremonies this time?
Gretchen: Watching the Opening Ceremonies always brings back great memories of my Olympic experience. I know how excited each of those athletes is to take it all in, but yet keep focused on the task at hand. The Olympics is first and foremost about competing and the desire to win, yet the entire experience is what becomes most important in the end, win or lose.
Bobbi: What was the most difficult part of your journey?
Gretchen: The year that I spent away from the national team after having been cut was the most difficult for me. I spent a lot of time feeling depressed and defeated. The "victim" of an unfair decision. However, once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and began to train and play for the love of the game and for my own self-improvement, I found an inner strength I didn't know I had. Once I was given another chance, I vowed never to allow myself to grow complacent. Make it or not, I would leave with no regrets.
Bobbi : Were there any LC coaches or teachers who helped or inspired you along the way?
Gretchen: I arrived as a freshman at Loomis with some talent and a lot to learn. I have to say that all of the teachers and coaches I had during my four years at LC were so supportive. I was lucky enough to have Bruno [Chuck Vernon] as a coach, first in JV soccer, and then for varsity hockey. Bruno was the type of coach that was teaching all the time, not just on the ice. I learned so much from him that I didn't necessarily appreciate at the time, but looking back, realize that he helped lay a foundation for me that allowed me to continue developing into the player I eventually became. It was especially rewarding to return to LC in 1998 and share my Olympic accomplishments with the community.
LC: Words of wisdom...final thoughts?
GUS: The Olympics as shown on TV is just one snapshot from the life of an athlete. There is so much more to each person's individual story, and not just the dramatic ones that the press descends upon. Each of those athletes has a history, a road of challenges that have been met in order to make it to the world stage. Not every athlete will take home a medal. However, every athlete will hold on to the memories of having achieved and competed among the world's greatest.