Rockville native Haley Skarupa has been dreaming of playing in the Olympics since she was in her early teens.
But when she finally heard her name read as part of the roster for next month’s games, she was stunned.
“I honestly didn’t even believe it at first. … I didn’t really know what I was feeling,” said Skarupa, a Thomas S. Wootton High School graduate.
Her path onto the Olympic team wasn’t smooth skating.
The selection camp near Tampa, Florida, started in May, and she wasn’t initially chosen as part of the group. She’s been in and out of the program at various points since then.
Now that she knows she made the final cut, she’s free to look forward to fulfilling her childhood dream. Most of all, Skarupa, a forward, said she’s excited about sharing the experience with her teammates.
“We’ve been through so much in the past years. I’m looking forward to taking it all in with them,” she said.
Skarupa, who celebrated her 24th birthday Wednesday, found her way into ice hockey by following in the footsteps of her older brother. At age 4 or 5, she started playing roller hockey with him on their neighborhood streets. A couple of years later, she graduated to ice hockey.
“I just loved how fast it was. It was very dynamic,” she said. “I just love the challenge of it.”
With options limited for a female hockey player, she’s skated on boys’ teams over the years, and she thinks the challenge has made her a tougher, more strategic competitor.
“You had to be smart about the places you went with the puck and what you did on the ice,” Skarupa said. “I really liked playing guys’ hockey, because of that. If I made it out alive, it was a huge success.”
Skarupa, whose mother, Penny, is a Bethesda Magazine advertising account executive, played alongside her brother, Dylan, on the boys’ varsity team at Wootton. When she was a freshman and he was a senior, the team won a state title.
Skarupa went on to attend Boston College on a hockey scholarship and has played with the Connecticut Whale and Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League. She has played in three International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships with Team USA and won gold each time.
The U.S. women’s hockey team celebrates at the 2017 world championships in Michigan, left, and Haley Skarupa. Credit: USA Hockey.
She’s been a fighter off the ice, too.
Earlier this year, she and her teammates threatened to boycott the world championships unless USA Hockey gave them a wage increase. Their absence would be particularly noticeable since the competition was taking place in the United States, Skarupa said.
At the last minute, the female players reached an agreement with USA Hockey, and the team decided to take the ice even though it missed training camp. The team ended up capturing gold.
Skarupa said she thinks the players’ decision to stick together during the wage negotiations strengthened them as a team.
“We [became] really close as a team without even practicing, and that’s what we think really helped us,” she said.
Though she wasn’t picked initially for the Olympic selection camp, she got a call a few months later inviting her for an evaluation period. Over the coming weeks, she was in and out of the program, she said.
In November, she left her job as a professional player in the National Women’s Hockey League so she could practice in Florida. Just before Thanksgiving, USA Hockey asked her to stay at the camp for the duration of the selection process.
At long last, she learned at a team meeting in late December that she’d be one of the 23 female hockey players skating for the U.S. in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The team, which is flying to South Korea on Jan. 31, is coming off a “little bit of a rough patch” that has included a few losses to the Canadian team, she said. But she’s optimistic about their chances in PyeongChang, where the U.S. women will begin competing Feb. 11.
“We’re readjusting, and we have positive energy,” she said. “I think we’re heading into a peak around Olympics time.”
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.