When the U.S. Women’s Hockey team takes the ice at the 2018 Winter Olympics, their goal may be to win gold, but there’s another prize at hand.
They will help girls all over the country, like 14-year-old Nina Herceg, fall in love with their sport.
Herceg has been enamored with hockey players’ athleticism and ability ever since her dad started taking her to games when she was little. It didn’t take her long to want to lace up her own pair of skates.
“After a little bit of begging, my dad finally let me play hockey,” Herceg says. “And I quickly fell in love with the sport.”
Herceg has now played for six years and is a member of the Long Island Lady Islanders. Thanks to the experience, she’s made many good friends and connected with her dad on a deeper level.
She’s also learned an important lesson about herself.
“I found out I’m resilient,” she says. “It’s given me confidence in other areas of my life to try new things — just by learning how to play hockey.“
Since the 2006-2007 season, girls and women who registered to play hockey under USA Hockey jumped 32%, from around 50,000 players to 75,832 players.
The uptick of girls playing may have a correlation to the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team’s recent gender equality advocacy.
It’s definitely deeply affected Herceg.
“They’re willing […] to fight for what they knew was right,” says Herceg. “It inspired me.”
The women’s hockey team’s activism both on and off the ice has sparked Herceg to continue pushing women’s hockey forward.
Last year in Herceg’s English class, students were assigned to write a letter to any business or company on a topic they were passionate about. She wrote to NBC Sports about the lack of coverage of women’s sports, particularly hockey.
“It would be great if we could get more coverage for the women because it would inspire little girls all over the world to see them on TV and to have them think, ‘That could be me someday,'” she says.
While NBC responded to her letter stating they do whatever they can to air women’s sports, Herceg has yet to see much change in coverage.
Still, this has only motivated her to continue playing hockey. After all, she’s seen the members of the U.S. team persevere despite being treated unfairly and unequally.
With the women’s team getting ready to fight their way to the podium, Herceg often wonders what inspires them to keep pushing forward despite the challenges they face as women athletes?
“How do they not get discouraged?” she wonders.
While she may not have the chance to ask the players this question directly, one thing is for certain: With girls being inspired by their example, we will continue to see them breaking down barriers. Because for them, it’s more than a sport; it’s about carrying on a legacy of women reclaiming spaces that are rightfully theirs.
“They’re proving that it’s possible for us to chase our dreams,” Herceg says.