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tara sullivan

The legacy Meghan Duggan leaves for women in sport is worth more than gold

Meghan Duggan (center) and her US hockey teammates undoubtedly will inspire future generations.
Meghan Duggan (center) and her US hockey teammates undoubtedly will inspire future generations.Phil McCarten/Phil McCarten/Invision/AP

Rare was the time that Meghan Duggan failed in an appointed task, but when it happened, she knew where to turn. This was 2014 in Sochi, Russia, when the Olympic women’s hockey gold medal game fell apart across the third period. The American team Duggan captained lost to rival Canada in overtime, and it wasn’t long before Meghan was collapsing into the arms of her parents, Bob and Mary, shaking with sobs and aching with sadness.

They were there, because they were always there.

They were there four years later, rinkside in South Korea, when the US team would erase that Sochi disappointment in storybook fashion, an overtime win at Canada’s expense finally fulfilling what had been an excruciatingly elusive gold-medal dream.

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They were there when the youngest of the three children they raised in Danvers, one not yet double digits, declared for the world she would someday do exactly this, there to share in the euphoria of arguably the most thrilling American moment of the PyeongChang Games.

“In my mind, I was thinking, ‘This girl deserves this gold medal more than anybody I know,' " said Mary in a phone call. “I was relieved for that, and that I could watch the whole game without throwing up.”

“She worked so hard for so long to achieve that goal,” echoed Bob. “At that point, I didn’t care if she ever played again. She had really achieved the ultimate goal.”

‘“Hockey has given me everything. It’s been my life. I’ve grown up through the sport. I met my wife through hockey. We have our son through hockey. I’ve stood on podiums, and been challenged as a leader and as a person through hockey.”’

Meghan Duggan

And now, here they are, enjoying a beautiful autumn walk through Meghan’s Connecticut neighborhood, reflecting on a career that officially came to that close Tuesday, when Meghan announced her retirement.

They were there, and now they are here, pausing to honor a woman who didn’t just give USA Hockey everything she had on the ice, but everything she had off it too, her leadership in the fight for equality a testament to courage, fortitude, and fairness.

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They are here, smiling at the daughter who, along with her wife Gillian, gave them their greatest gift, their first grandchild. The little Leap Day bundle of joy named George is destined to be the star of the next chapter of Meghan’s story, already fitted for a jersey, pads, and skates.

“My family means everything to me,” Duggan said on a Zoom call hosted by USA Hockey. “I wouldn’t have achieved or had the experiences I’ve had without them. The sacrifices they have made. The emotion they’ve poured in.

"They have given me every opportunity in the world to succeed, and I owe them so much. I’m very thankful to have them by my side to celebrate.”

She’s been flooded with memories, of early-morning practices and late-night drives, of never-ending workouts and ever-widening friendship groups, of being that 3-year-old who took to skates for the first time to the 33-year-old ready to hang them up.

“Why now? It was a gut feeling,” she said. "It was the right decision for myself and my family. I’m someone that has lived a lot of my life and played a lot of my career on heart and soul and how I feel and what’s going on in my mind.

“Hockey has given me everything. It’s been my life. I’ve grown up through the sport. I met my wife through hockey. We have our son through hockey. I’ve stood on podiums, and been challenged as a leader and as a person through hockey.”

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Meghan Duggan looks up during a face off in the second period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's semifinal game against Sweden.
Meghan Duggan looks up during a face off in the second period of the 2014 Winter Olympics women's semifinal game against Sweden.Mark Humphrey

And here’s the certainty as this part of the story comes to a close: She rose to the challenge. And in so doing, she leaves a mark on the game bigger than anything plated in gold. She leaves a legacy to future generations of athletes.

She stood up in a boardroom in March 2017 and spoke up for her team, the face of this group of brave women prepared to sacrifice everything they had worked for, to withdraw from the World Championships unless they were treated comparably to the men by USA Hockey. She made every phone call she had to, assuring those by her side they were doing the right thing, assuring those in the wings they were fighting for them too.

To be heard the way she was, to effect the change she did, and then to deliver with gold at the Worlds and then the Olympics? History won’t forget her.

“That’s a big part of our team’s legacy and it’s something I know every single woman on our team is proud of and eager to share and talk about,” she said. "It’s something that USA Hockey can be proud of and we were able to work through that and move through things together and be on the right side of history.

“That experience brought us together as a team, it empowered us and encouraged us to be even better moving forward. It was a huge part of my career and my teammates' careers and what we put a lot of pride in — inspiring that next generation.

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"We’re passionate about it, it’s important to us, and it’s a huge part of the legacy of the women who recently played on the national team.”

In this 2013 photo, Meghan Duggan (right) stands with teammates Kacey Bellamy and Julie Chu and IIHF president Rene Fasel as they are presented with the trophy after women's ice hockey world championships.
In this 2013 photo, Meghan Duggan (right) stands with teammates Kacey Bellamy and Julie Chu and IIHF president Rene Fasel as they are presented with the trophy after women's ice hockey world championships.Sean Kilpatrick/Associated Press

These days, our sports schedule has been packed enough to give us temporary respite from the ongoing pandemic, a smorgasbord of baseball playoffs, basketball bubbles, college football Saturdays, and almost nightly NFL games offering plenty to watch. It’s almost too easy to miss an announcement like Duggan’s.

But it deserves to be celebrated, to be remembered for the years of inclusion, support, and encouragement of its past, and to be replicated for the years of inclusion, support, and encouragement it should inspire.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.