CLEAR BROOK — Given that the Olympics occur just once every four years, Haley Skarupa had every reason to consider walking away from her ice hockey playing career when she was cut from the U.S. Olympic team in April 2017 at the age of 22.
But Skarupa said, "use challenges and adversity as opportunities" when addressing the 650 people at the Frederick County Fairgrounds on Saturday morning, and she used her disappointment to experience moments she'll never forget.
Now 27 and still an active hockey player, Skarupa — a native of Rockville, Maryland, which is 75 miles from Winchester — spoke those words to the attendees at the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Partlow Insurance Sports Breakfast.
Less than a year after it looked like she wasn't going to go to the Olympics, Skarupa was celebrating with a gold medal in South Korea.
"When I was cut, I learned a lot about myself, and how you can get better from a setback," Skarupa also told the crowd.
At Boston College, Skarupa had 244 points (115 points, 129 assists) from 2012-16 to rank second all-time in school history, and from 2015-17 she played on three U.S. teams that won world championship titles.
After taking some time off after being cut, she resumed her career in the National Women's Hockey League, and she eventually made the final Olympic roster in December of 2017. Skarupa went on to play in all five games in the Olympics, which culminated with a 3-2 shootout win over Canada in the gold medal game.
"Nothing compares to the Olympic stage," said Skarupa in an interview Saturday morning before the Sports Breakfast. "Once you go to the Olympics, and being in the village, going out on the Olympic ice, it's such a different stage. You feel the magnitude of that.
"It's just an awesome, amazing opportunity to be on that team. It's such an honor to represent your country at the Olympic level. The level of preparation and everything that goes into it is obviously elevated, and I have no regrets doing it. Our team sacrificed a lot, and it was an incredible experience to share with my teammates, friends and family."
The opening ceremonies stood out to Skarupa.
"I grew up watching the Olympics, winter and summer, and that's something I've always dreamt of doing, walking in the opening ceremonies at the Olympics," Skarupa said. "To do that with all of the other athletes, not just the hockey players, from all of the countries was something that really hit home for me.
"And just meeting all the different athletes in the village during that whole time was memorable. Hockey players, non-hockey players, U.S., not U.S., everywhere, it was really cool to be able to meet those people, because you don't get to do that very often. We were able to snowboard with a bronze medalist snowboarder in Korea when we were there after we won. It's just those types of experiences that I'll remember."
Skarupa played another year in the NWHL after the Olympics, but she noted it's not a league that pays enough for players to do it full time. (The main job now for Skarupa, who lives in Boston, is working in business development for Klaviyo, an ecommerce, email marketing and SMS marketing company.)
But Skarupa is trying to do what she can to make that a reality for women's hockey in the future through the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. The PWHPA holds weekend events throughout the year to showcase women's hockey and hopefully create a sustainable women's professional league.
"The goal of it is to ultimately morph into a league that's either partnered with the NHL, or just a platform where women can play hockey professionally as a full-time job," Skarupa said. "All the players are on the same page about that, which is why we created this with Canadian, U.S., European players.
"We are taking steps in the right direction. We played at Madison Square Garden on NBC Sports and NHL Network this year, we played at the United Center in Chicago, and that was on NBC Sports. We know it's not going to be an overnight thing, but we're definitely moving the needle forward, which is cool to see. I'm happy to be a part of it."
Skarupa also began working with the Washington Capitals in 2019 as a hockey ambassador for the area. Because of her job in Boston, Skarupa can't devote as much time to that as she used to, but it's important for her to work on growing interest in the game, particularly among girls. Skarupa said she was the only girl on her team for the first few years of her youth career.
"Girls' hockey in this area is growing so much," she said. "If I can use my experience and my background to help move things forward, I would love to do that any way I can."