Olympic hockey player Angela Ruggiero is a small business star, too

Angela Ruggiero learned that lesson at a young age. When she was only seven, her father had taken the family to the local hockey rink in Conejo Valley, California, so he could sign her brother Bill up for youth hockey. When her father learned that families received a discount, he also signed up Angela and her sister Pam.

“I knew from day one that I loved it,” says Ruggiero. “It was a team sport, and it involved my whole family. A turning point came when I was nine and was cut from a boys’ All-Star team that got to go to Canada. I was the second- or third-best player on the team, but I got cut because I was a girl.”

Becoming the best on the ice

You take risks and face an uphill battle at times, but you never give up, and you persevere--
even when obstacles are in your way.

“That put a fire in my belly,” says Ruggiero. “I wanted to show that I belonged. My dad told me that the only way you’re not going to get cut is to be the best player on the ice. I was 12 when I learned that women’s hockey was going to be in the Olympics. My goal became to never get cut again.”

There wasn’t much chance of that. Armed with her natural ability, her father’s advice, and a steely determination rarely found in someone so young, Ruggiero set her sights on the Olympic Games and never looked back. Her dream came true: When Ruggiero was a senior and a standout defensive player at eastern prep school Choate Rosemary Hall, she helped the U.S. women’s team bring home the Gold from the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games. In 2003, while she was skating for Harvard, Ruggiero was named the world’s No. 1 female hockey player by The Hockey News. She also won the 2004 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top player in U.S. women’s collegiate hockey.

Ruggiero went on to a distinguished U.S. professional hockey career marked by some notable firsts, but it was the international flavor of the Olympic Games that really tugged at Ruggiero’s heartstrings. Before she announced her retirement in 2011, Ruggiero had played on three more U.S. women’s teams, winning Silver Medals at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and Vancouver in 2010, and a Bronze in Torino in 2006.

Today, Ruggiero serves as a global ambassador for women’s hockey. She is a member of the International Olympics Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, which is a link between active players and the IOC, and its Evaluation Commission, which assessed potential host cities for 2018 Olympic Winter Games. She also serves on the board of directors of the U.S. Olympic Committee and is the president-elect of the Women’s Sport Federation. She also recently received a master’s degree in sports management from the University of Minnesota.

Becoming the best in business

Over the years, Ruggiero, now 32, learned that her talent on the ice was matched by her ability to run small businesses, which she believes has much in common with being an Olympic athlete.

“I have mostly been my own boss for the past decade,” she says. “Several years ago, I founded a line of girls’ hockey camps and tournaments across the U.S. and Canada. I also work as a consultant. Like any small business owner, I had to build my own brand over time, work with my employees, and struggle with the ups and downs of learning on the go and building something from scratch.”

Ruggiero often tells athletes that they should go into business, and she urges fellow business owners to hire athletes. “There are many similarities between being an Olympian and being a small business owner,” she asserts. “I would be surprised to find a successful athlete or small business owner who doesn’t have a strong and clear mission statement. You take risks and face an uphill battle at times, but you never give up, and you persevere—even when obstacles are in your way. Heart, effort, and vision are the intangibles that make you a success as an Olympian and as a small business owner.”

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