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Sarah Hughes

Olympic Figure Skater & Law Student

Philadelphia, PA

When I look back to the ingredients for success I achieved in sport, enthusiasm and passion are at the heart of it.

I started figure skating when I was three and won the Olympics at sixteen. I am often asked about what happened in the interim, to share the secret to success that existed between these two bookends. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about too.

Telling people what they want to hear in a few short sentences and telling people the reality is not always the same thing. It’s not because I don’t want to share the reality of it – the reality of leaning in, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute. The reality of occasionally taking on more than you think you can handle to reach the next level, which sport requires you to do, and to do often.

Two amazing things can happen when you embrace this: you gain a newfound confidence in yourself and you meet people who will change your life by inspiring you to keep leaning in.

To have success in skating, you need to be very skilled in articulation. You must understand what you want, your capabilities, your opportunities, and constantly work on your ability to deal with failure and success. Once you have a grasp on that, you start working on ways to express it better externally. There is a joy in being able to communicate how you feel inside to the outside world. It’s this articulation that forms the most basic connection from one person to another and something I continue to work on everyday.

A few months after the Olympics, I gave a speech in New York. Billie Jean King was front and center. I spoke about the influence she’s had through her “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, but also about the importance of the legislation she helped pass to ensure equal opportunities to future generations of children in federally funded programs through Title IX.

When we spoke after, I knew I had a like-minded friend. What I didn’t know was that the relationship we began then would become what it is today, over thirteen years later.

We went to a hockey game at Madison Square Garden a few months ago. I’ve always admired her boldness in being the person to stand up and make a change when she encounters injustice. It’s a quality that has made me want to be more like her. I told her that I was applying to law school to be more effective in the work we were doing together through the Women’s Sports Foundation, an organization she founded. In true Billie Jean fashion, she didn’t just approve of the idea of becoming a law student, she celebrated it as if it was the best idea she’d heard all year.

I was recently appointed to the Board of Trustees for the Women’s Sports Foundation. After working as an Ambassador for WSF focusing on benefitting underserved girls and women, I became more aware of the multifaceted challenges and issues facing people all over the country. When Senators and Representatives take meetings with me, I know I only have a few minutes to clearly and concisely make my point. It is now more important than ever for me to be articulate. It’s a skill I’ve been developing my whole life: on the ice, off the ice, at Yale as an undergrad, and now as a 1L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

I think of Billie Jean’s reaction at that hockey game often. When I look back to the ingredients for success I achieved in sport, enthusiasm and passion are at the heart of it. When I look forward, her reaction reminds me of the can-do spirit and optimism I want to have for life and for the possibilities I have ahead of me; possibilities for creating opportunities for others and advocating for justice for all of us on the playing field and off of it.