By Phil Stacey
It's been nearly six months since Meghan Duggan returned from Vancouver to her home in Danvers with a silver medal hanging around her neck.
One of the superstars of the United States women's hockey team from this year's Winter Olympics, Duggan has been extremely busy in the time that she's been home. The Salem News caught up with her recently and, in a question and answer session, found out just what's been going on in her life — and what lies ahead — for the 22-year-old.
How has your life changed since the Olympics?
It was pretty hectic at first. My mom (Mary) and I were joking around the other day; I opened up my calendar the other day, and it seemed like every day in March, April, May, June, there was something. You couldn't believe the people that called and said 'Can you come do this or that?' And you know what? I loved it; loved sharing my experience with everyone.
Right now, I feel like I'm back on track with my normal life. I'm going to be a college student again, going back (to the University of Wisconsin) in the fall, going to enjoy my school team and focus on winning another NCAA championship. But for the first few months after I got home, yeah ... it was pretty hectic. But it was unbelievable; I loved everything. I loved it all.
Did anything surprise you afterward — the adulation you got or the way people recognized you?
I think I was surprised by everything. (The Olympics) had been a dream I had for myself and something I had worked towards ... but the way I was received by the town, by the country — I didn't expect that at all. While I was there, to see pictures of what was going on back here took me by huge surprise. And when I came back, the way I was received by the town was something I never could have imagined. I didn't know that many people had jumped on board or had known what was going on with my life. I'm just a 22-year-old kid from a small town; it definitely took me by surprise.
Was there anyone who came out of the woodwork you hadn't seen in forever, or someone you reconnected with because of this whole experience?
So many old teachers and coaches ... I went back to Thorpe (Elementary School) and to the Middle School and saw teachers I had when I was 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, then as a teenager ... it was nice to be able to talk to them and share my experiences.
Did it ever get overhwhelming?
The only day that was overwhelming for me — but it was a good thing — was the parade (held in her honor in Danvers this past March). I was taken aback and so emotional from all the support from people. It was one of the best days of my life. To see that many people in town, thanking and hugging you ... it was overwhelming. People I hadn't seen in years I saw that day. By the end of the day, I was at the (Danversport) Yacht Club and started crying on my Mom's shoulder, saying 'It's too much' — not in a bad way, but just in the sense that it was so much I hadn't expected. The emotions I had and the love I was feeling from everyone was incredible.
How about some of the places you've been to away from Danvers?
Right when we got back, my teammates and I took a little R&R vacation down in St. Thomas. We rented this house, 14 of us, and we came to find out it was a house that President Clinton had stayed in a few times. We had a girl on our team who worked the system and got us a great deal down there; it was phenomenal.
Did anyone recognize you there?
Not really. We went out one night — St. Patrick's Day — to dinner and were partying and someone had their medal, which is why someone recognized us. Other than that we had time to ourselves, which is what we wanted. We mostly stayed at our private beach and allowed ourselves to enjoy each other's company. It was basically 14 of my best friends and I down in the Caribbean, and it was a blast.
What else have you done?
Throwing out the first pitch at the Red Sox game on Patriots Day was a huge highlight. To be the one out of my eight teammates there chosen to throw it, that was a real honor. I have the ball here still; I should have gotten it signed.
Another cool thing was we got the chance to fly out to LA for two-and-a-half days for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." That's right up there with the most amazing things I've done in my life. Our team loved Ellen; we always watched her on the (team) bus and listened to her stand-up comedy, and I think that's why it snowballed into us going out to be on her show. I had never been to LA ... we were just going with the flow, feeling like celebrities being picked up in limos, going to Warner Brothers studio and all that fun stuff.
We also went to the White House; obviously that was huge. We just recently got our pictures of the whole team and Barack Obama and Mrs. (Michelle) Obama. I now have a picture of myself with two Presidents; one when Wisconsin won the (2007) NCAA championship and I got to meet President (George W.) Bush, and now the Obamas. I'm not a huge political person, but I remember we got a video from President Obama directed to us that was wishing us well before the Olympics; hearing that was a great honor and really fired us up. Then when you meet him, you're starstruck. It's something I'll never forget.
Anything else special come from your travels?
While we were in Washington D.C., there were 10 of us from the hockey team that got the chance to work for Habitat for Humanity. There's a program through the United States Olympic Committee called Team for Tomorrow, and they set up opportunities for Olympic athletes to give back. They had contacted us a few weeks before we went to D.C., knowing that some of us wanted to give back, and hooked us up with the Habitat for Humanity group. We spent all day, 8-9 hours, working on this house in the hot sun — and had a blast. We were drywalling, painting, landscaping ... that was definitely something exciting.
How about other people reaching out to you?
Obviously Facebook is a huge network, and even now I can't even catch up on all my friend requests. I think people see you in the Olympics on TV and they want to be your friend on Facebook. We all got funny messages from some guys — 'Oh, I saw you on TV' — but it's like, I don't know you or where you're from. So I just (accept) people I know now. Like there are guys I grew up playing Little League baseball against who remember me being the only girl on the Danvers American all-star team, or guys I played hockey against, they write me a message and that's exciting, rehashing old memories.
I know you're back in the mindset of training and getting ready for your senior season at Wisconsin — what exactly are you doing to get ready?
I've skated in the same (summer) league, the All-Out Summer Program, since I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. Paul Kennedy, my old high school coach at Cushing Academy, has been really instrumental as a coach, mentor and friend, and has always been adamant about getting players on the ice in the summer. So we pay for ice in Bedford at the Edge Sports Center three nights a week. (Best friend and Olympic teammate) Erika Lawler and I go over there and skate now, and we're the old kids and Olympians coming back; it used to be we were the ones skating with Olympians.
Are any of them in awe of you two?
We skated with some of these girls and watched them develop. Last year, we skated in the league before the Olympics, and they were like 'Good luck with everything this year.' They all followed the Games, and to come back and see how they've progressed and see them all again is really nice.
Will there be a big adjustment in going from trying to win an Olympic medal to going back for your final season of college hockey at Wisconsin?
Being in the national championship game the last three years I was in college, it's incredible to be a part of. Wisconsin is an amazing place and a huge reason I even made the U.S. National team and got to the Olympics. It's not so much a letdown; I just refocus on a different goal. I want to use my Olympic experience and use the experience of playing in a gold medal game and bring that with me to school. I'm a competitive athlete; if there's a championship out there, I want my team to win it.
Any individual goals for this final season?
I'm not a huge stats person; to me, I just want to bring what I can to the team. As a senior I'm going to be a leader, and I'd love to be able to leave with another national championship. I've been so fortunate to have great teammates and be in the national championship the last three years, and that's all you can ask for. I hope we can do it again. To lead my team in the right direction; that's all I'm asking of myself.
Is it difficult to refocus with an eye toward 2014 (i.e., the next Winter Olympics in Russia)?
We have a training camp coming up next month to begin the whole new four-year cycle. Before the last Olympics, there were a lot of things I'd worry about and stress about. Even though I was in tip-top shape and ready to go, I wouldn't sleep. Now I can consider myself more of a veteran on the team. I won't lose my work habits, but maybe have a little more sense of being able to relax.
It's tough to get to the Olympics. Working out (recently), I thought, 'Wow, I can't believe I have to do all of that testing again, all of those training camps again, everything.' Everything I was doing the last four years was the first time leading up to the Olympics; now, it's starting all over.
You can't let down in your training or anything like that; you constantly have to prove yourself. I'm just going to keep training and playing until my body tells me I can't anymore. But right now I feel fresh and ready to go for a long while for the four-year cycle.
Reading up on your Russian already?
(Laughs) No, not yet. People around town are already telling me, 'Oh, we'll be there in four years' and this and that; a lot of joking around.
People ask me if I'm going for it, and as of right now I definitely am. A lot can change over the course of a few years, but my plan right now is definitely to be in the next Olympics — if not the next two. I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to make that happen.