Haley Skarupa, pictured at the Rockville Ice Arena, came home from South Korea with an Olympic gold medal. Photo by Edgar Artiga.
Haley Skarupa fishes through her purse at her family’s home in Rockville one day in March, retrieving a wool sock that holds precious cargo. It’s the gold medal the 24-year-old hockey forward won as a member of Team USA at February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. She played in all five games, including the dramatic sudden-death shootout victory over arch-rival Canada in the title game. It was the first gold for U.S. women’s hockey in 20 years.
“I have an actual carrying case, but everyone’s wanting to see it, so this is easier right now,” Skarupa says. “It’s very heavy. One pound, 2 ounces.”
“Everyone” includes tennis great Venus Williams, who tried on Skarupa’s medal when the team met her and sister Serena at a Madison Square Garden exhibition match in March. The Williams sisters were among the celebrities who wanted to meet the team while the women were traveling the country on a whirlwind victory lap that included appearing on TV talk shows, riding in parades, signing autographs—and ringing the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange.
Even in Skarupa’s Olympic dreams, the Thomas S. Wootton High School graduate never imagined she would find herself dancing with her teammates, Olympic bronze medal winner and superstar skier Lindsey Vonn and host Hoda Kotb on NBC’s Today show set in Pyeongchang shortly after the big win.
Or that she’d be on the set of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, listening to DeGeneres thank the team for pushing for better treatment for female players. All 23 players watched as their team jersey was hoisted to permanently adorn a wall in DeGeneres’ studio.
The team also appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and gave Fallon a personalized jersey. Singer Meghan Trainor, another guest on the show, couldn’t resist trying on a medal.
Wearing medals and their jerseys, the players were featured marchers in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston. They dropped the puck to start home games for the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. The Orioles asked Skarupa to throw out a first pitch, which she did on March 31 at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
In late April, the team traveled to St. Thomas in the Caribbean for a vacation. “It’s been wild,” says Skarupa, who was feted in her hometown when the Montgomery County Council officially congratulated her during a late-April ceremony. As the Washington Capitals moved through the postseason, Skarupa provided game commentary for NBC Sports.
Reaching the pinnacle of global athletics is still a pinch-me experience for Skarupa. She screeched for joy and piled onto her teammates in the moments following the 3-2 win over Canada. Her mother, Penny, a Bethesda Magazine advertising account executive, father Tony, brother Dylan and grandmother Barbara Skarupa were in the stands, along with Kush Sidhu, a treasured coach who founded the Washington Pride, Skarupa’s Junior Women’s Hockey League team.
Her accomplishment is magnified by the unnerving way she was chosen for the Olympic team. After three years on Team USA, which won three straight world championships, she was cut from the Olympic training team 11 months before the Pyeongchang Games. She had done nothing wrong—it was just a calculation of coaching strategy that put her, a popular veteran, off the roster.
It was an elevator drop for Skarupa, who was tight friends with the other players. With grace, she exited the selection camp outside Tampa and took a five-month break from hockey, her first since she started playing street hockey with her older brother and neighborhood boys at age 4. “It was devastating,” she says. “All I had dreamed about was the Olympics.”
She was living then, as now, in Boston, where she plays for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League following a stellar career at Boston College. In 2015-16, she helped the BC Eagles achieve a rare undefeated regular season, and went on to record 115 career goals, third highest in team history, and to become the second-highest-scoring hockey player (for goals and assists) in school history among men or women.
After being cut from Team USA, Skarupa walked dogs to stay busy and even thought about leaving hockey. But then she got the call. The Olympic team needed her to fill in for some injured players and help the team train. “I told them I hadn’t been on skates for five months,” Skarupa says. She had two days to decide whether to go. Her love of hockey and her teammates made it an easy call.
“Everyone was super welcoming,” she says. “It was like I never left.” After several weeks, the injured players returned and she left camp. Later, she was called back again. “I just took it day by day,” she recalls. “The highs and lows were like a roller coaster. It was so out of my control.”
Just before Christmas, she found out she had made the team. “My mother cried. A lot,” says Skarupa, who credits the steadiness of her parents in making the ordeal bearable.
Now back in Boston, Skarupa doesn’t know what her hockey future holds. She continues to train and remains on the Pride’s roster. But the team, like all women’s pro hockey teams, doesn’t pay a living wage, so Skarupa is facing some life choices.
Still, the uncertainty of what lies ahead can’t dim the glow of achieving her lifelong dream. “I’m just trying to savor these moments,” she says.