USA Women’s Hockey Olympic Gold Medalist Kendall Coyne
Beijing Bound, Memoir, & Schofield Family Foundation
Writer: EIC Kelli Gillespie, Photos: Courtesy Kendall Coyne & USA Hockey
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: The 2022 Winter Olympic games are almost here and you’ll be competing for the third time! You’re defending the Gold Medal for Team USA in Women’s Hockey and you also won the silver medal in the 2014 Olympics. So, how do you feel you’ve grown in both skill and the mental game?
Kendall Coyne: Well I think anytime you have the ability to experience something you learn from it. You learn the good things, the bad things, the things that can help you moving forward. And I think this team has so much experience and whether we’ve been to the Olympic games or not, every time is special; it’s unique. And we know these games are going to be extremely unique given the circumstances of the pandemic. So we’re all going to be in a unique situation for the first time together. But I think over the last few years, in the last two Olympic games I’ve participated in, I’ve been able to take away something and learn something new and apply it as I continue to move forward in my career.
RM: And as you mentioned the whole world has been full of uncertainty and missed expectations due to this global pandemic. Obviously COVID 19 will impact the Beijing games, but how does it affect your approach if at all?
KC: Oh, our approach has definitely been altered. But that doesn’t change our goal, our outcome or our preparation. It’s just more so how that looks. I think over the last two years, like most sports, like everybody in this world, things have been canceled, postponed, and changed. You may have had it on your calendar for a long time and it didn’t happen. The last half of our My Why Tour was canceled so we haven’t played a game in quite some time.
So of course things aren’t exactly how you would draw it up, but that’s been the situation for everybody in life, not just in sports. And so I think heading into these games, I know it’s cliche but it’s control what you can control. And every day we’re at the rink, every day we’re together, every day we have the opportunity to be in the weight room we take advantage of it. We make the most of it because I think we’ve all learned over these last two years you never know when that might get taken away. And it’s not because it’s something that you can control it’s often times completely out of your control.
And I think as we head into these Olympic games we’ve been receiving a lot of information. Whether it’s from the USOPC, USA Hockey or the IOC as to some of the protocols and what the Village may look like, what the dining hall may look like, what ceremonies may look like. So, I think we’re preparing as much as we can to know what to expect. So we’re bringing a lot of board games, we’re doing a lot of things that we can with each other to stay in our sort of immediate bubble if you want to call it that with each other.
But I’ve been saying this, it’s going to be hard not having our family and our friends there but I couldn’t imagine going over to Beijing without a group of 41 individuals that are part of our family here at USA Hockey. And the support staff that we have, the medical staff that we have, we’re in such good hands. And I’m so thankful that I’m a part of a team. I couldn’t imagine being an individual sport athlete, kudos to them. I don’t know how they do it, they must have some major resiliency in their DNA. Because we’ve been leaning on each other so much over these last two years, especially these last five months leading into Beijing as we’ve been training here full time in Bray, Minnesota. So, we’re in a really good spot and we’re so excited to get over there.
RM: Absolutely. I want to take it back to your childhood. When you put on those skates for the first time, there’s no way you could have had any idea that they would take you to where you’re at today. And now adding author to that list, which is so exciting. I know this has been a longtime goal of yours to write your story. So, what does it mean to you to see As Fast As Her come to fruition?
KC: It’s a dream come true. And honestly my goal is that I hope it inspires someone else. I hope it inspires them to follow their dreams. As I mentioned in the book I wasn’t born to play hockey, I really just picked up the sport because I wanted to do what my brother was doing at the time. And when I started playing hockey, women’s hockey wasn’t even in the Olympic games. It wasn’t an Olympic sport. So to know where this game would take me is nearly impossible when I started it. But what was possible, and what I did know, was how much I loved the sport, how much passion I had for the sport at even such a young age. And it’s really that love, that passion, that drive, and work ethic that was ingrained in me. Because I love this sport so much, that really helped get me to where I am today.
And throughout the book in As Fast As Her there’s so many stories of my career, my journey, my journey through life that helped get me to where I am today. And some of those stories are… sometimes it can be scary to share moments that I was like I didn’t realize it at the time, why I went through it or why it was so hard and why this was happening to me. But as I was writing this book, as I was reflecting back on my journey, I started to realize the why. And that’s why it was so important to me to write this book and to really put those stories on paper to show people, it wasn’t a straight line, it wasn’t as easy as it looks. And hopefully some of my stories can influence some of the other people who are reading my book too… whether it’s to follow their dreams, whether it’s in hockey, or in anything else.
RM: You were a girl in a male-dominated sport, talk about those challenges and how you overcame them. Now girls can go pick up your book on the shelf and have somewhat of a blueprint.
KC: When I put on my first pair of skates there definitely weren’t many girls in the rink. But I didn’t really realize that, I just realized I love this sport, I loved to chase the puck around, skate fast, and follow my brother to the rink. And I really didn’t recognize it. And then as I get older I got cut from a team — and that story is in the book — and not really understanding why I got cut until years later I recognized maybe the why. And then I started to look around the room and the Blackhawks games weren’t on TV growing up in the Chicagoland area. When I would go to school and PE would be my favorite hockey unit, no one really would get as excited as me. And they’re like, you play this sport?
And then for the kids that did know the sport, they’re like, girls don’t play this sport. So there were always these phrases, or these sentiments around me playing the sport. Whether it was people that didn’t know about the sport, people that did and knew it was male dominated at that time. But then when I’d go home and it was no different. It was just another sport that I played with my brother. And then my little brother started to play, and then my little sister started to play. At my house, it was completely normal. It was outside the house that it felt so abnormal to everybody else. And it was kind of channeling those feelings of why is this so odd to everybody else? Because right here at home, it’s completely normal. And I think it was really finding that love and that passion that I talked about before. Every time I walked into the rink I wanted to be there.
I was waking my parents up saying, let’s go! We’ve hockey practice today. They never made me go to the rink, they never made me train, they never made me want to love the sport of hockey. I just had that desire inside me. And so it was really tuning out some of those naysayers that said I didn’t belong in the sport. And ultimately leaning on those who told me I did. The coaches that I had along the way that treated me just as another hockey player on the team. Not as the only girl on the team. Just another member of the team and made me feel just as equal and no different. And it was really leaning on those people throughout my career that helped me get to where I am today.
RM: You talk about your parents, and obviously to play at the level that you’re at, they would’ve had to been pretty instrumental and have made sacrifices. What impact, or what have they done to support your career that hits home most with you?
KC: Everything. To be honest… in the book I talk about how my mom was a teller at the racetrack. And then when one became two, and two became four, pretty quickly in terms of kids in the Coyne household, I witnessed my mom give up her career so that we could fulfill ours. And I don’t think there’s any greater sacrifice in that because I know how much she loves working, and how she’s such a workhorse. And she loved being at the racetrack, and around her coworkers.
When you’re young you don’t really understand it, but she did that so that we could fulfill ours. And then as we start to get older and bills became more expensive and hockey was expensive, I saw her become a cleaning lady, a lunch lady, and doing any odd side jobs that she could to help bring in extra money so that we could continue to play the sport. And same with my dad. He continued his job, but then would do extra jobs along the way. And so when people talk about my work ethic, I had the best leaders and role models right in front of me. And they didn’t even have to say anything. I just had to watch the work that they put in every day so that I could live out my dream and play the sports I loved. And it wasn’t just hockey, I was playing basketball, baseball, softball, track and field, I was doing it all. And to have their work ethic showed me that there’s no reason that I can’t give it my best every time I have the opportunity to go out there and play because they’ve provided that opportunity for me.
RM: One of my favorite things throughout your book are these “Golden Coynes” And yes it’s a play on your last name which I love, and they’re sprinkled throughout. So share a little bit about how these motivational thoughts came about.
KC: So a lot of it came about after talking about the chapter, writing the chapter, and really like what was that take away from that chapter for me? And I will say coming up with your own quotes is very hard. Some of them obviously are ones that are really well known quotes, but those are quotes that mean so much to me. When I think of that chapter it’s this quote that came to mind in that moment, it isn’t an original golden coyne.
But really it was just really the strong message, the source of inspiration just to go back to when you may be trying to look for something to help you get through that tough time or to celebrate that awesome time. You can go back to that golden coyne and it really hopefully hammers home not only the chapter, but the moment and how I experienced that moment through that one small lesson in the golden coyne.
RM: Now your husband is an athlete too, [Super Bowl Champion Mike Schofield] he plays professional football. But the two of you knew each other from high school, is that correct?
KC: So we went to the same high school, but we didn’t know each other in high school. So we’re not technically high school sweethearts. But we did go to the same high school. But similar to my story, he was so busy with his academic and athletic schedule playing football for the school. He was kind of on his own path this way, and I was on my own path this way. And we didn’t meet each other until after the 2014 Olympics.
RM: How do the two of you sharpen each other and compartmentalize and actually just have time where it’s the two of you and sports may be not involved?
KC: We’re each other’s biggest fans in sport, but more importantly in life. He’s my biggest fan literally and figuratively. But I think it’s such a unique bond that we have. Each of us have been able to accomplish our childhood dreams whether it was winning the Super Bowl or winning a gold medal. And being at the pinnacle of our sport that we’ve put so much time and commitment and sacrifice into.
And so there’s just kind of that unspoken, known commitment that we have to our jobs, to our sport. But then that commitment only is greater when it comes to our relationship and to each other. Sports dominate our life away from each other so when we do get to be with each other, sometimes we don’t even talk about sports. Because I think that’s definitely the most challenging part in our relationship is not being able to be with each other.
And especially through COVID with us playing our sports in two different states and the risk, and mitigating the risk, and not being with each other, trying to be with each other. And the Olympic year is always definitely the hardest year because we basically go five to six months without seeing each other. Maybe for two to four days of those six months. But we understand what we’re dealing with and we’ve been through it before.
We’ve been pretty distant during the sports seasons since my junior year of college. So, we just have a really deep appreciation for the time that we do get together. And like everybody, we’re really good at Zoom and FaceTime.
RM: That is true. We’re all experts at that now. And thank goodness for technology that we have that. I do you want to mention too, along with your husband you have a family foundation, and you’re super involved with youth programs, and you put on a camp for girls, the hockey camp during the summer. Talk to me about the importance to you to give back and to make yourself accessible.
KC: So when my husband and I started dating we both had a dream of starting a foundation one day. And it was just like one of those synergies where we kind of looked at each other and literally as soon as we got married our next goal was to go on a honeymoon, that didn’t actually happen until I think two years later which we expected. But it was to start a foundation. And so we started that process in motion right away, I think it was six months after our wedding. We had our 501c3, we had our mission, we had our vision and we really outlined what is so important to us. And I will say the list started this big and we had to shrink it. Because I think when you run a foundation you want to help everyone and that’s what’s so hard. So we broke it down into five buckets – military, first responders, families in need, youth sports organizations and education.
We started the foundation in 2019 and it’s been soaring ever since. And growing and we’re building our relationships with new partners every year. And it’s a lot of work especially because we’re not always in Chicago. But we’re lucky to have a wonderful support group. It is so much fun to be a part of the Schofield Family Foundation.