May 22, 2024

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Life after gold: An Olympic champion reflects on her Yale years

Sarah Hughes ’09 is no stranger to defying anticipations. At 16, the determine skater competed at the 2002 Salt Lake Metropolis Winter Olympics, leaping above favorites Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya to choose the gold medal with an impeccably poised lengthy program (which, at the time, was also the most technically tricky method to ever earn an Olympic gold medal). No American female has brought home the gold in women’s determine skating due to the fact.

Only a year and a half afterwards, Hughes matriculated at Yale and moved into Timothy Dwight Higher education. She remained a outstanding figure in the ice-skating environment,  getting two undergraduate sabbaticals — 1st to skate skillfully with Stars on Ice and, following one particular semester back again, to supply coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, for NBC and MSNBC. For Hughes, individuals Game titles had one more compelling attract: her young sister Emily was skating for the U.S. (She positioned 7th.)

Hughes went on to review law at the College of Pennsylvania, and now operates as an legal professional at Proskauer Rose LLP in New York Metropolis. She also serves as an ambassador and trustee emeritus (obtaining served on the Board of Trustees for six yrs) for the Women’s Sporting activities Basis, a nonprofit that will work to advance the lives of women of all ages and ladies by way of sporting activities, education, and physical activity, and as an ambassador for Ideal to Play. That international group empowers vulnerable small children to triumph over issues by way of participate in. Now, with the commence of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, she’ll yet again be tuning into the earth of determine skating — and of fellow Yalie and 2022 Olympian Nathan Chen ’24 —  each as an NBC contributor and as a enthusiast.

(In Oct, we spoke with Nathan Chen about balancing lifestyle at Yale with the pursuit of Olympic gold.)

Hughes spoke to Yale News about winning gold, her time in New Haven, and why Chen desires no information going into this Video games. This interview has been edited and condensed.

What was it like to get to the Olympics at these kinds of a youthful age, and to get gold in this sort of a dramatic way?

Sarah Hughes: I experienced a reasonably rapid increase in just the skating earth — I started off skating when I was 3 yrs old, I used my whole existence on the ice. But I hadn’t created the national championship right up until 1998, at the junior level. It was thrilling for me to be at a national championship and get to see the skaters contend for spots on the Olympic team. I grew up looking at these skaters on Tv set nonstop — any time there was determine skating on Television, I was seeing it, I was taping it, I was seeing people tapes above and about. And there was a large amount of skating on Television set back in the ‘90s.

So then, 4 yrs afterwards I secured the 3rd location — we had three places for women of all ages at Salt Lake. It was a huge honor to signify the region and be aspect of the Olympic practical experience.

At the time, I thought Salt Lake almost certainly would be my only Olympics, simply because so a lot of my lifestyle at that stage was teaching, with the final target of producing the Olympic group. I went to Salt Lake with the thought of soaking it in — to get the most out of the knowledge, have the greatest time, try out to skate my ideal.

And there was an added layer at the time. I’m from New York this was just 5 months just after September 11th, and there was uncertainty regardless of whether the Olympics would even be held in the U.S. So for me to be able to go out and have the skate of a life time, on the greatest stage in the sport, with all that we experienced just been by as New Yorkers and as a nation — and now with the U.S. internet hosting the Online games — designed all the things that significantly far more intense.

At that position, did you already know that you required to retire from aggressive skating and go to higher education?

Hughes: I understood I desired to go to college or university and I imagine a lot of that was mainly because, just one, I needed to make close friends with other people my age who hadn’t put in their lives so targeted on getting to be an elite athlete, and two, I had found firsthand the favourable effect a faculty training can have on your lifetime and the trickle-down effect it can have generationally for men and women who do go to higher education. My moms and dads achieved in faculty. My dad was the 1st in his relatives to graduate from higher education, and my mom was the very first lady in her household to do so. Numerous of my options to pursue athletics came from relationships and abilities they created in school, so I felt heading to university could assist me develop very similar expertise for my long term.

But extra right away, I needed to go again to significant faculty and have a additional common higher school schedule, since I’d been touring all the time competing. So that was what I assumed I’d do. But then following I received, I grew to become an right away movie star and was currently being invited do a good deal of pleasurable things, like presenting at the Grammys. I was a large Backstreet Boys and NSYNC and Britney Spears enthusiast, and so when I received the prospect to fulfill folks I admired, I wished to do that much too, and I enjoyed performing exciting factors like that.

And then I was ready to do meaningful operate in training and wellness care. For case in point, with Campbell Soup, we established a scholarship that awarded $300,000 in scholarships and I labored with their Labels for Education application. Instruction is some thing I have been dedicated to, the two in the classroom and in lifetime, and has produced my everyday living extra significant and purposeful. I also partnered with Normal Electric, getting to be the second of the two spokespeople they’ve at any time experienced. We established the GE Heroes for Health software, which targeted on a broad vary of well being concerns that experienced touched my existence, together with cancer care, women’s well being problems, and wholesome dwelling for kids.

But I knew school would support me produce expertise that would make my operate additional impactful, and I also truly required to go to faculty with my friends. And I felt Yale was the appropriate put to do so.

What created Yale the ideal position for you?

Hughes: I just felt relaxed there. I liked the faculty process. I didn’t have a usual substantial university encounter of sitting down in a classroom all day, each day mainly because I was also coaching and touring a whole lot. I wished to know that if I had inquiries, or if it was tricky adjustment for me, I would have the methods to come across enable. Because I desired to triumph as a faculty pupil, and I wished to make buddies and I wanted to be capable to adhere with it when it was rough. I knew that the best way for me to be in a position to grow as a man or woman and create academically, to figure out what I preferred to do skillfully, was at a spot the place I felt comfy to question for the assistance that I would require. I did not know what support I would need to have, but I realized I would need some assist.

And of training course, then when I acquired there, the learners had been just fantastic. So that was a big furthermore for Yale as well.

After you were being at Yale, how did you equilibrium staying both equally a pupil and an elite and well-known athlete?

Hughes: It was a complicated changeover to go from the daily life I understood to starting to be a faculty pupil. I imagine that is almost certainly true for a great deal of freshmen. Not automatically that they’re an elite athlete, competing internationally in a different place each and every thirty day period like I was, but to go from a schedule and a place that you are relaxed with to quickly be living away from their relatives, from what they know, from the areas where they go to take in, from the lessons that they took – it is an adjustment.

Now I’m not as recognizable as then, but then it was quite current — I won when I was a junior in large college and then I labored in the skating and entertainment earth until eventually I commenced at Yale. I loved currently being a scholar, but it was a demanding transition.

How did skating fit into your life as a Yale college student?

Hughes: I skated a tiny bit, but my focus at that issue was on scholar life and lifestyle at Yale. I was definitely fully commited to having the freshman experience of heading to college or university with my peers. I should really note that I did get a depart of absence right after freshman 12 months.

I’d normally wished to skate in a exhibit called Stars on Ice, considering the fact that I was younger, and I had the possibility to do so immediately after I won. So just after freshman calendar year, I headlined the Stars on Ice tour. We started in Japan, and then we did 60 U.S. reveals. And in the summertime just after freshman year, I went to Athens, Greece, and labored as a reporter, covering the Summer time Olympic Game titles in Greece.

But the strategy was normally to appear back to Yale. Just after I covered the Olympics and did Stars on Ice, I came again to Yale for a semester. And then my sister designed the Olympics, so I took one more semester off. But I was established to complete and to have the Yale knowledge, to take the lessons there, to be with the other learners.

A different Yale university student, Nathan Chen, will be competing in this Winter Olympics. Do you have any terms of tips?

Hughes: When Nathan chose to go to Yale I was so energized for the reason that Yale has not experienced a prolonged line of elite figure skaters who pick to go to university and train. I truly was choosing in between Yale and Harvard, and Harvard had had a few elite determine skaters, like Paul Wylie, who won the silver medal in men’s figure skating in 1992. Paul and I have a joking rivalry about the colleges — and so I was happy Nathan made a decision to go and tip the favor in the direction of Yale.

It’s awesome that Nathan has stayed with Yale and he appears to be to actually like it and be acquiring a superior experience. And I’m pretty delighted for Yale due to the fact Nathan is a very first-course personal. Though he is just one of the greatest ever in his sport, he is also humble as a person, keen to learn, and respectful of other people, so I think about he’d be a fantastic classmate far too. As an alumna, it’s great to see the university and learners uphold a price method like that.

But back again to your dilemma: I do not have advice for Nathan. He’s a 3-time planet champion and six-time countrywide champion likely into this — he understands what he’s carrying out.

He’s an unbelievable skater, and it’s unbelievably remarkable that he was equipped to stability instruction across the nation — due to the fact his education foundation and mentor are in California — with remaining a student. That he made the decision to acquire on this endeavor at Yale, and keep on to not only compete, but carry on to dominate in competitions, appears to be superhuman.

I have watched determine skating my total lifestyle, and have a large appreciation for somebody who does these kinds of tough aspects, raises the specialized bar in the sport, and retains these types of composure all through it all. But even people today who tune in when every single four years inform me they are just awestruck by what he’s accomplishing out there on the ice.

What are you hunting ahead to at the Olympics?

Hughes: Looking at these athletes attain their desires. That’s definitely a highlight.