Hughes Talks About 'Making a Difference' at AAC Dinner

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Olympic champion Sarah Hughes delivers the keynote address at the Athlete Alumni Dinner at 2011 Governing Council.
(5/3/11) - Olympic champion Sarah Hughes talked about what skating has meant to her and the opportunities the sport has given her during the keynote address at Friday night's Athlete Alumni Dinner at the 2011 Governing Council meeting in Lombard, Ill.

The event, which raises money for the Athletes Advisory Committee scholarship fund, took place following Governing Council business.

Hughes, a graduate of Yale University, recognized those people who supported her during her competitive days as well as the new faces she has gotten to know in her evolving role as a mentor.

"I treasure all the people who skating has introduced me to, who continue to advise me more in my life now as a young professional than they did when I was competing," she said.

"I also cherish all the friendships that skating has brought to my life. For those I'll forever be grateful."

She talked about the important role volunteers play in making skating such a fulfilling sport, in particular, the members of the Athletes Advisory Committee (AAC).

"These energetic, passionate individuals coming to together to contribute to something they love and wanting to help is contagious," said Hughes, who plans to be an active member of the AAC next year.

The sense of closeness skaters feel toward one another lasts a lifetime, she added.

"I had my first competition when I was 6 and consistently competed for over decade after that," Hughes said. "I then went to college with a completely different atmosphere than the skating world. And one day I decided I would go back to the rink. I hadn't been on the ice in over a year. When I stepped on the ice and went back into the rink, it was like I never left. The camaraderie was still there and strong.

"I feel that no matter where I go and no matter what I do, there's a strong bond among the skaters. And it's built from the experience of being a competitive skater. It's stronger than any words you can mention. I think it's a bond which you have to earn yourself through hours of hard work, self-sacrifice, discipline and commitment, but once you put the time in, it will be there for the rest of your life. It's something I'm always fascinated with and comforted by."

Hughes spoke about how skating allowed her to express herself and be an individual as she went from being a young girl to a young lady.

Hughes with her parents, John and Amy, after winning the 2003 U.S. silver medal.
Photo by Paul Harvath
Skating provided an outlet, she said, for her frustration as she watched her mother, Amy, battle breast cancer, and how she then watched her mom influence others' lives after winning the Olympic gold medal in 2002.

Amy, who is a longtime advocate for breast cancer research and awareness, attended the dinner with her daughter.

"The greatest thing that skating gave me--something that may not be obvious to those outside the sport--is that you don't have to be an Olympic champion to reap the greatest benefits the sport has to offer."

Hughes discovered this first-hand months after winning the 2002 Olympics as a spokeswoman for General Electric's "Heroes for Health" program. Her role was to visit with seriously ill children and their parents at hospitals across the country, offering a friendly face and words of hope and encouragement.

"When I went into the first hospital and kids' room, I gave them some stuffed animals and pictures of myself," she said. "But the kids didn't know who I was or cared about skating or cared about the Olympics. They were stuck in a hospital fighting for their lives. And it made so much sense when I was there, but it wasn't something I thought about beforehand. All that mattered to them was that I came to hang out with them, color, to read, to talk to them, to give them my attention, just to be a friend.

"That's when I realized, you don't have to be famous, you don't have to win the Olympics to make a difference. Anyone who volunteers can make their lives better, days richer and their time here happier."

Volunteers, she said, are part of every skater's team.

"They not only lend a helping hand and offer words of encouragement; they make the skaters feel important and that their skating matters," Hughes said.

The work of the AAC, she concluded, does not go unappreciated.

"I know the current competitive skaters applaud you, the future generations will thank you and the legends of the sport are grateful to you for upholding such a high standard of excellence for the sport we all love so dearly."

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