(ATR) Angela Ruggiero wants to help Olympians who are coming and going.
As chair of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games, Ruggiero helped plan the 10-day event and has enjoyed engaging with YOG athletes at the start of their international careers.
Ruggiero with IOC President Thomas Bach (ATR)
She’s also vice chair of the IOC Athletes' Commission and since last September has been a member of the executive board of the World Olympians Association. In those roles, the four-time Olympic ice hockey medalist from the United States is thinking of ways to assist Olympians who are retiring or are already alumni.
“It’s a huge honor and definitely a large responsibility,” Ruggiero told Around the Rings
of her appointment to the WOA executive board by IOC President Thomas Bach.
Ruggiero said the two groups are in a strategic planning phase, figuring out ways they can work together and support each other to achieve their goals. The WOA even has office space with the IOC in Lausanne.
“I think we have a lot of overlap in objectives,” Ruggiero said, “specifically athlete transition when they go from being an Olympian to a retired athlete and all the struggles that come with that – mental, physical, getting a job, starting your second career in a new profession.”
She said the WOA is moving in the right direction and has a lot of momentum and support. Partnering with the IOC will provide even more resources and brain power.
Joël Bouzou, President of the WOA, and CEO Mike Miller have been making the alumni association more proactive.
“I think they’re recognizing the strength of Olympians around the world and bringing them together in new ways, creating programming for these current and retired athletes that were Olympians,” Ruggiero said.
That dovetails with initiatives undertaken by the IOC Athletes' Commission.
“You think about an athlete going from the peak of their athletic experience and all eyes are on them and they have a lot of support,” Ruggiero said, “to not having a job, struggling with maybe depression, negative body image or literally physical differences in their body that they’re coping with.
“You’d be surprised how many athletes haven’t saved money, or can’t pay rent. It’s not just about the experience at the Games, which tends to be the focus, it’s about helping them develop as people outside of just being an athlete -- while they’re competing and especially when they’re done.”
The 36-year-old said a key strategic focus of the IOC Athletes’ Commission has been on post-Olympic careers.
Ruggiero competed in four Olympics for Team USA (Getty)
“Let’s help these athletes think about what they’re going to do next from a career perspective,” she said, “help them work on their resume and help them land jobs. But on the more holistic side, I think the WOA could also help with some of the things that they want to achieve.”
She hopes to help create more of a sense of global community at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, networking that universities and organizations take for granted.
The Rio 2016 Olympians Reunion Centre presented by EY will be hosted at the Clube de Regatas do Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro and should help raise awareness of the WOA as a source to connect athletes and give them a place to gather, Ruggerio said.
“We’ll work together to come up with programming for it,” she added, “but there will certainly be opportunities for all Olympians to attend, both currently competing and those that aren’t competing any more.”
Ruggiero said just finding all of the Olympians who have retired is difficult. They are no longer reachable through their international federation or NOC.
In Rio, she said, “We’ll have a few ways that we want to try to get their contact information so we can stay in touch with them.”
Some names at the YOG will emerge as future Olympians. Ruggiero, who won her Olympic gold medal at age 18 in Nagano and then added two silvers and a bronze, was an athlete role model at the first YOG Winter Games in Innsbruck four years ago and continues to be a role model in Lillehammer.
On Wednesday, she spent four hours talking to hockey players, emphasizing player safety and respecting your teammates. Molly Schaus, an athlete role model from the U.S., and Sean Burke of Canada also led the discussion.
“We wanted to be there as a resource for some of these young athletes that hopefully were inspired by attending the Games, seeing a multi-sport event like the YOG,” Ruggiero said. “The Youth Olympic Games are more than just sport. I talked a lot about the core tenets of the Olympic Movement: excellence, friendship, respect, respecting your opponents on and off the ice and obviously not taking dumb hits and hurting people.”
She said the Norwegian organizers with whom she worked for 3 ½ years took the YOG concept and “molded it and made it their own.”
“When I was competing, you’d show up and everything’s perfect,” Ruggiero added. “You don’t think about the detail that goes into planning.”
In the cold Lillehammer air, Ruggiero is wearing more hats than anyone else at the 2016 YOG.
Ruggiero playing in sledge hockey exhibition (ATR)
Besides her IOC and WOA roles, Ruggiero is a member of the IOC Coordination Commission for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games (after first serving on the evaluation commission); the Board of Directors of Olympic Channel Services S.A.; a member of the USOC Board of Directors and Athlete Advisory board; a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation's Athletes Committee; the IOC liaison to the International Rugby Board Athletes’ Commission; a member of the board of the Women’s Sports Foundation (and a Past President), and has previously served on the WADA Foundation Board.
And she even wore an ice hockey helmet to play sledge hockey in an exhibition.
Ruggiero remembers being the age of the 1,100 YOG athletes who are 14 to 18.
“They will walk away with an unbelievable experience that hopefully they will carry with them the rest of their lives,” she said. “I was happy to be part of that. It’s been an incredible journey.
“I know that these athletes have a great experience on the field, but also off the field, the culture, education, Learn & Share -- all these intangibles of the Olympic Movement come to life in the Youth Olympic Games.”
Written by Karen Rosen in Lillehammer.
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