JESSE: So, earlier, I was kind of thinking about since you started with figure skating, I would assume that kind of gives you a really nice base in terms of as you mentioned, with Gretzky, finesse, like a good touch with the ice versus somebody that just was out there and kind of skating I’ll say straight lines a bit. But you know what I mean?
JESSE: Were you in figure skating long enough to feel like that made a difference in terms of your kind of agility or skill compared to some other players?
RANDI: I would say definitely. So, I figure skated for two years. I wouldn’t say I was great at it. Like after two years, I still hadn’t landed an axle, which kind of meant, okay you’re not going anywhere with this. But yeah, the edge work is something that you just focus on that as a figure skater in a way that young hockey players are generally very distracted by pucks and by hitting each other and that sort of thing. So, I’ve also done a good amount of coaching and I know when you’re coaching little kids, trying to teach them how to play, the hardest thing is that they don’t want to work on their skating, right.
They want to learn how to take a slapshot. They want to be playing the game. But sometimes it’s like well, you can’t even stop. You need to focus on your edge work. But it’s so hard when there’s all that distraction of the actual game, right? So, personally, I think it’s great. I think like if you can spend a year or two purely focusing on skating, it’s huge.
The other thing about figure skating is when you fall like it hurts really bad because you’re not wearing any gear. So, you really sort of learned how to use your edges and stay on your feet. And then when I transitioned to hockey, I think that was probably one of the things that allowed me to work through feeling a little bit like a weirdo because I was the only girl in most of my classes, right? And boys would kind of look at me and be like, what are you doing here?
But then I’d be zipping around and they’d be like, “Whoa actually, you can really skate.” And I didn’t know how to handle the puck or do anything else, but the skating really made me stand out and I think gave me the confidence that I could play this game because I had something the boys didn’t have, which was skating finesse.
JESSE: So, when you’re coaching is there any way you could like trick kids into learning how to do all that stuff like make a game out of it? I don’t know I’m just like, it seems so fundamental. Your path I’m just like that it makes so much sense kind of like, God I’m forgetting what coach, what basketball coach this is, but talking about just working on the fundamentals, stop working on trick shots, nail your fundamentals and then like you have a base that’s better than a real so you’ll be able to get to the next level and get beyond where you are because your fundamentals are so good.
And as somebody who is mediocre at best on ice, I see figure skaters, I see hockey players and just with the speed you’ve got to move at, how good you’ve got to be on skates, it seems like you would obviously want to start there.
RANDI: Yeah, it’s definitely tough. But I think growing up, I was lucky to sort of find the mentorship of some really good hockey instructors who also felt really strongly about the importance of fundamentals. So, there was a guy named, what was his name? Oh, shoot. I’m blanking on his name so forget that. He was a Russian guy who came to the US and sort of made a career out of training players in these camps, and was really big on just developing these fundamental skills.
So, my mom, somehow, found one of these camps and sent me to it. And I remember the entire first week of the camp, there were no pucks, and you wouldn’t even have your stick on the ice. Right? You would just be out there and you’d be doing all these edge work drills.
And part of the way that they keep kids motivated is they had these incredible instructors who were guys that were usually sort of like pro hockey players like lower-level AHL or something like that, or even just below that level. But they’d be incredible skaters and they would be out there demonstrating every single drill. So, you can see what they could do first.
And because they were so cool, and they’re like your hero and you want to be just like them, I think that really helped us to feel like okay we really need to master this stuff. Like if these guys who we know how cool they are, if they think it’s important to do it, like it’s important for us too. So, these summer camps were also I think, really huge and yeah, I appreciated that a lot.
JESSE: That totally makes sense thinking about like, you find somebody that a kid idolizes and they’re like, well, I want to be just like them. If they’re out there and they can do it and that’s what they’re saying is important then follow the breadcrumbs, it’s no like no more difficult than that. Do you have that kind of influence yet? I feel like you should.
RANDI: Sometimes. Like with the right kids I feel like coaching is always hit or miss. So, I don’t know, I probably coached like six different teams and then also ended up being an instructor at one of these similar types of camps. And yeah, you find kids that are not into it and you know, they’ll say, “Oh, this is stupid, a waste of time,” and like to go through the motions on the drills. But I did find that there are a lot of kids who would sort of just respect like, where I took the game, and say, okay if you think this is important I’ll put the time in for this. So, yeah.
JESSE: So, one of the things I was wondering about in a lot of, so you played at Harvard, correct?
JESSE: One of the things a lot of collegiate athletes have trouble with is post collegiately continuing to play. So, I’m kind of in the unique position that I ran in college on scholarship, I can continue to run as long as I’d like to like I don’t need a team to do it. Is there like, I’ll say amateur, but in your case, it may not have been, but is there an end avenue for people to continue as adults to play hockey?
RANDI: Yeah, so as a woman, I would say it’s really difficult. For men, there are certainly leagues where you can go and develop your skills after college. But for women at the time I graduated, which was 2010, there was really nothing. You could play in like men’s leagues, there would be sort of recreational men’s leagues that might not be the safest. And usually we’re not really like you don’t have a coach, like you don’t have systems but you could still like keep your skills up that way.
But it was really difficult. It felt sort of like if you graduated from college, and you weren’t on Team USA, and getting the support from the National Program, there was nothing, you were just done. So, for a lot of girls, there was definitely a mindset of like, try to get into the Team USA program or Team Canada program while you’re in college. And if you graduate and you’re not there, you’re done.
So, for me, that was the case. I graduated and you know, like pretty much every other girl I was playing with. I had dreams of playing for Team USA as a kid. And even in college, although by the end of college, I sort of realized, okay, I’m not really at that level. So, after I graduated, I just moved on with my life and decided I was going to focus on academics and actually didn’t play for a few years. I was coaching kids, but not really playing at all.
JESSE: One of the things that I often talk about with, I’ll talk to like before we got going, I mentioned my friend, Todd and I talked to other people who have their Ph.D.s in exercise physiology in that kind of field. And we talked about, I think it was Dr. Keith Barr, who mentioned that a lot of people in that field, were really motivated to be Olympians, be pros, and just didn’t have the physicality to it. So, they end up in that field trying to figure out why.
So, with hockey, I think about, because I come from a running background and I think about there are strategies and tactics. But it is largely a purely physical endeavor. How fast can you run versus team sports where there’s a lot more skill involved. So, I’m kind of wondering when you’re thinking about trying to get into that Olympic development pipeline in college, your opinion on physicality versus skill, and then development of skill does it matter so much?
Is there an easy way to see, like you said, you didn’t feel like you were at that level to be able to continue or you weren’t able to get to the program is, in your opinion, there a hard line, that it’s like, no, that person is just never going to have the touch on the ice that you need for that kind of level, or is it a matter of, I need to put in more hours or find new coaches or that kind of thing?
RANDI: Yeah, that’s definitely I think, a really interesting question because hockey is a game where there are many different ways to be a good player, right? And you can look at the NHL, and you can see Zdeno Chara, and then you can see like a guy like Martin St. Louis, who is like five foot four. And both of these guys have managed to make it to the highest level of the game and are extremely effective, completely different styles, completely different strengths and weaknesses.
So, it’s one of the cool things about the game I think that you can sort of take whatever your physical attributes are and say, okay what type of player should I model myself after so that I can actually play the game at a high level? In terms of there being like a hard line, I don’t know if I would say it’s a hard line. Like it’s not like running, right, where it’s like, you could literally say if you’re not above the speed, you’re just not fast enough.
JESSE: Right. Your maximum is just not gonna be there.
RANDI: Yeah, like it’s not that simple, I think. And I also think that there’s a lot of kind of circumstantial things that can play into who makes it to like a Team USA for example. One thing I’ve noticed is like every time the coach of Team USA changes, a lot of the players change, right? A different coach is going to have a different idea of what types of players are going to fit into their system, into their leadership style, right? And so I think that that can play a huge role.
And then also just when you’re in your college years, for example, having a coach who advocates for you and decides, okay from your freshman year, I think you’re going to be a star. So, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to put you in these roles, high pressure situations, I’m going to put you with good players, right, give you the opportunities to do these things and to build your confidence.
That makes a huge difference versus having a coach who just ignores you or decides like whatever, I’m just gonna start you on the bottom and you have to scratch and claw your way to the top. So, I do think there are sort of like kingmakers. In the world of hockey. I think it happens in men’s hockey too, where someone gets a reputation early on, and then it’s like they just don’t Get sort of lifted up everywhere they go. And you can also see players, who I think Martin St. Louis was an example. I don’t know if you know who this is, but– [crosstalk]
JESSE: I don’t, but that’s okay.
RANDI: Oh, okay, so he played on the Tampa Bay Lightning, won a Stanley Cup. He was one of my heroes just because he was so little, he was five foot four. And I remember reading the story about him that he was like a mediocre player on his college team at University of Vermont, I think, and they told him like, you should just give up playing, you’re not going to go anywhere, right. And then like a decade later, he wins the Stanley Cup, and he’s the captain of the team.
And all of that had to do with him, I think finding the right coach, the right linemates, and basically getting the opportunity to show what you can do. And maybe even in college because of his size, he was sort of overlooked and not put in good places.
So, it is really complicated. But I also think it’s one of the beautiful things about the game that you know, it’s not like you could just rank all the players top to bottom and say, okay, if we put all them on a team together, that’s going to be the best team. That’s not necessarily true, right? It’s about putting together a puzzle piece. And a lot of times a team with sort of, maybe mediocre players individually who work really well together could end up beating a team that has, by some objective measure, all the best players.
JESSE: I think his story maybe is part of the allure, and in some aspects, frustration, and magic of sports where it’s like you could, I think, by some measures for sure, you could call it an underdog story. Where in college, as you mentioned, he’s being told basically, you’re not going to do anything. And then he goes on to win the whole thing a decade later and a decade is not in a small amount of time.
RANDI: It might have been longer, it might have been longer than that. Don’t quote me on the time.
JESSE: But I mean, even if it’s a decade like a decade is, that’s a long time. And so just as a sports fan, you kind of go, well, how did he make it? Was it just pure determination, was there luck involved? And that’s the kind of frustrating and frightening thing is like, as a young athlete, if you’re listening, how do you progress forward towards your dreams? How much do you have control over? And how much is just simply being in the right place at the right time?
RANDI: Yeah, definitely something I’ve thought a lot about myself. And I guess I think it’s interesting you mentioned these people going into the field because they’re trying to sort of understand why they didn’t make it to the level they wanted to make it. It was something I thought a lot about too because I was definitely someone who studied the game, right? I really tried to optimize everything about how I trained. I was always looking for ways to get an edge, trying to figure out, oh, this person made it, okay.
What did they do? Oh, they took pilates classes. Okay, I’ll take pilates classes, whatever it is. And you want to think that you have a lot of control over what the outcomes are. But ultimately, at least for me in the sport of hockey, I ended up feeling that you have relatively little control.
And when I think back if I could change one thing about the way I approached the game, it would probably be to chill out and have fun. Because I was so stressed so much of the time, right? I was playing the game I loved but I was making myself unhappy because I always felt inadequate. And I always was looking to the next thing, rather than sort of enjoying the moment and what I’m doing because I thought, well, if I take that lax attitude, then I’ll never make it. Right?
But as it turns out, depending on your metric, like I didn’t make it right, I didn’t make Team USA. And I wish I had just been a little more relaxed while I was playing. So, yeah, I don’t know. It is a tough thing because I also respect the people who really give it everything they have. But you can’t control everything.
JESSE: Yeah. Well, no matter who I talk to you and I talk to professional athletes and talk to amateur athletes, it seems like a lot of them, no matter who they are, no matter what the sport is, if you don’t– If you’re going to avoid burnout and kind of reach your potential, it seems like every single one of them comes back to I figured out how to enjoy myself. Even in the midst of just obliterating myself in training to try to be better, there was still some kind of joy to be found in that day to day.
RANDI: Yeah, for sure. It’s so important. But yeah, definitely I think when you’re comparing yourself to the person on the right and the left it can be hard to keep that at the forefront of your mind. And yeah, I would say like, one thing I actually kind of appreciated because I got this weird like random chance to go to the Olympics like after having several years off, and sort of like mourning the end of my career, and feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t go as far as I wanted to, everything felt like a bonus.
And I actually was just kind of having a good time. And I know some of my younger teammates weren’t understanding that because they were still in that mindset that I remember being in when I was their age. And so I sometimes felt like my role was to try to tell them, hey, these are some of the best years of your life like you need to relax. So, yeah.
JESSE: I feel like that kind of gives you a unique opportunity to just enjoy the whole Olympic process. So, few of the people that begin sports at an early age, so few of us get to walk into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony and see the crowds and be a part of the whole thing going on. And I feel like you can kind of see as everybody’s walking in, who’s really soaking it up and who’s like already in that game mode.
RANDI: Yeah, yeah. Or like not even there because they’re like, “No, it’s too late. I gotta be in bed.”
JESSE: Yeah. Yeah.
RANDI: For sure.
JESSE: So, tell me about your Olympic experience. How do you go from not playing to basically getting called up to play with the Korean team?
RANDI: Yeah. So, it was really incredibly lucky. So, what happened was South Korea basically found out okay, like we’re hosting the Olympics, I think 2014, they found that out. And then they also find out from the IIHF that, oh, if we want to, if we can like meet certain criteria, they will allow us as the host country to send a woman’s ice hockey team and a men’s ice hockey team, even though according to the international rankings, we’re not good enough to go.
So, they said, okay, we want to do this, we think this could be a chance to like spark something, some interest in this sport in our country. So, we wanted to try for it, but they had barely enough players for a women’s hockey team. And they were like, okay we need to do something about this.
Some of the players who were there also just were not very skilled. They were very passionate, but I would describe it as like a grassroots almost like a social club. They love the game, but it was like one team of girls just like playing against themselves all the time hanging out. They had a coach but like, the coach didn’t worry too much about their performance because they would go to like international tournaments and just get their butts kicked, and it wasn’t a big deal. So, they said, okay, we have four years, that’s not enough time to actually like develop a strong grassroots women’s hockey program.
So, they took a two-pronged strategy to building our team. The first piece was they found a group of kids, there were six kids who at the time were like 12 years old. And they’re like, okay you know how to skate, a couple of them had been [??? 19:23] skating, a couple of them had been figure skating, a couple of them have been playing on this national team, even as little kids. And they’re like, okay, we’re going to send you to Canada, you’re going to go to high school in Toronto, and you’re a hockey player now. And when you come back, you’ll be old enough to plan the Olympics, and you’ll be able to speak English and you’ll be good at hockey. So, they sent those kids to a school called the Ontario Hockey Academy. And so they got to develop as players there.
Their other strategy was to say, okay, let’s scour college hockey rosters in Canada and the US, and let’s look for Korean names. And we’ll contact those people and we’ll find out like if their parents were born in Korea, like we can get them citizenship easily. You know, maybe they speak a little Korean and they’ll be interested in joining us. So, they hired a guy who his whole job was basically to do this work.
So, he’s going through the college hockey rosters, and he’s not coming up with much, because I think hockey is just not really part of Korean culture. It’s very rare for a Korean mother to say, “Okay, sure my kid’s gonna play hockey.” So, he wasn’t finding many players. And he found one girl who played at Princeton, graduated in 2011.
Her name was Caroline Park. So, they found the ‘Park’ and contacted her and she actually very quickly went over to Korea and like, starts playing with the team. But she had a memory from her college days playing against a Korean player. And the only reason that she knew that I was half Korean is because my mother was at this game where we played against Princeton, and her father was in the stands, and they recognized each other as Koreans, and they’re like, “Oh, that’s weird, like to Korean people in a rink.”
So, they kind of connected and she was like, “Yep, I know about this person, she was a good player, you should get in touch.” And so that’s when I got this email from the Korean Ice Hockey Association asking if I wanted to come spend my summer in Korea playing hockey. So, I actually, I rejected them the first time around. I said, “That’s crazy. I haven’t played hockey in like four years and like I can’t do it. I’m in grad school.” They kept emailing.
They actually somehow got my dad’s phone number they like called him they were so persistent. And then my dad actually kind of talked me into it. And he was like you’re gonna break your Korean grandparents’ heart if you don’t go, and break his heart if I don’t go. So, I’m like, okay I’ll try it out. And once I went there, it was just a ton of fun. And you know, I just kind of got the hockey bug again. And that was it.
JESSE: So, I mean, how’s that email feel? Is that like, getting that email, does that feel like one of those like Nigerian prince scams where you’re like, this is not…?
RANDI: Actually that was my first thought like, so I remember showing my fellow grad students like in the lab, like look at this email I got like, how could they come up with such a specific scam? How can they know that I’m half Korean, I play hockey, that I would be interested in the Olympics? Like, no, this is ridiculous. But that was my first thought. And it wasn’t until there were like, multiple follow up emails, and whatnot that I was like, okay, it’s real. And when I heard from Caroline Park as well, I’m like, okay, she’s real. And like, she’s telling me there’s a team over there. So, yeah.
JESSE: I love how your dad basically is pushing you to not do figure skating, and then now it’s trying to get you back into hockey at a later date.
RANDI: Yeah, I think he definitely missed it. He loved watching his kids play sports. And I think he was a little bored.
JESSE: He’s like, “Entertain me.” So, you’re in grad school, are you Masters or Ph.D. at this time? I mean, I think you’d be in your Ph.D. track by that time, right?
RANDI: Yeah. So, my program was pretty much like just Ph.D., like Masters phase. So, yeah, I was in the Ph.D. program at the time. I guess that would have been just like a year in actually.
JESSE: And so how do you manage that time? Because I would assume you’ve gotta fly to Korea to play with the team, but you’re also doing studies at Duke, right? So, it’s like, your [??? 23:37]
RANDI: Yeah. So, I got very lucky for everything to work out for me to be able to kind of do both things at the same time. I think what made me lucky was number one, getting a fellowship that released me from my teaching duties, otherwise, I would have had to be like on the ground teaching courses every semester. So, I was free to just do research. The other thing was that I was doing all like computational work. So, I didn’t actually need to be in a physical lab.
Like once I got my data, I could work from anywhere. So, those two things really made it possible for me to be abroad and still be working towards my degree. And in terms of productivity, it also actually worked out pretty well because on the Korean national team, most of the girls were either in school or had a job. So, it was kind of like the evening was the time when you would train and be with the team.
And during the day, you would be focused on whatever your other thing was. So, I would just basically, it was a lot like being in college. It was work during the day, go to the rink in the evening. So, yeah, it worked out pretty well.
JESSE: That’s gotta be nice to have the, essentially the whole team unified with the same kind of culture and so that being like, okay, there goes Randi again, she’s gonna do her Ph.D. thing, and everyone else is like, all right, back on the ice.
RANDI: Yeah, I think it’s definitely like a woman’s hockey thing because it’s not a career for anyone. And everyone has in their mind at some point. You know, you do get a little stipend for playing on the national team, which comes out to about 50 bucks a day. And for some of the younger girls, that’s like, that’s cool, they’re still living at home, it’s like pocket money for them. But everyone’s thinking this is going to end eventually, and I need to do something else. So, I need to be developing other skills. So, yeah.
JESSE: So, I know, this is a good point to transition to your Ph.D. But before we do I know that I think you sent along that article to Joe that Harvard had posted about you being the only woman on the team to score a goal in the Olympics. Do you put a lot of emphasis on that? Or is it in your mind more of a PR piece for like people associated with you?
RANDI: Yeah, it’s definitely a PR piece. I mean, I don’t put a lot of weight on it at all. I feel a little guilty about it, actually, because I feel, I don’t know. I felt like I was brought in on the team a little bit late, right. Like there were girls on the team who the team wouldn’t have existed if they hadn’t been putting in time for years, right? Girls on the team were the same age as me, they’re like close to 30. And they’ve been doing this since they’re teenagers, right?
And this team is like their baby. And I didn’t do anything particularly great to get the goal either. Like it was really a bit of a garbage goal, a couple of lucky bounces and it went in. But I don’t know, I guess at the time, it definitely blew up in Korea. Like I know, the day after, one of my Korean teammates came to me and was like, “Hey have you [??? 26:46] Naver today?”
Naver is like a Korean search engine. It’s like they’re Google. And I’m like, “No, I don’t read Naver. I don’t read Korean articles.” And she goes, “Okay, well, you should go there. Like your name is trending, like the top of like, everything in the country right now.”
And I guess people need sometimes like a face or like a personality to sort of attach it to make a sport interesting to them and in a country that doesn’t have a hockey culture I think they like the story like I came back to my home country, right. And you know, my Korean grandparents were there and it was like their life coming full circle that their granddaughter scored a goal for Korea. So, people sort of liked the story. And you know, I had a cool haircut at the time. So, I don’t know, it just happened and I went with it. But yeah, it was very random.