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Podcast No. 9: Angela Ruggiero, 4-Time Olympian, Sports Innovation Lab Co-Founder

February 6, 2019

On the show today we’ve got Angela Ruggiero, one of the greatest female hockey players of all time.

By Will Ahmed

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Angela is a four-time Olympic medal winner with Team USA, including a Gold in Nagano in 1998 when she was still a senior in high school. She’s also a member of the International Olympic Committee, and one of the co-founders of the Sports Innovation Lab.

Angela and I discuss her long and spectacular career, from the single highlight she’s most proud of, to the time she became the first woman ever to play in a men’s pro game not as a goalie, to her appearance on Donald Trump’s TV show The Apprentice in 2007.

We also take a deep dive into human performance. She elaborates on her training and recovery during her decade-and-a-half as a pro, how the teams she played on could have benefitted from WHOOP, and the various ways technology is reshaping the game of hockey and sports as a whole.

I met Angela back at Harvard when I was first founding WHOOP, and it was great to have the chance to catch up with her now. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Show Notes:

3:08 – The Beginning. “It was a discount that got me into hockey.”

4:25 – Team USA at Age 15. She played with boys growing up. “I was the only girl in the state of California my age [doing it]. I always felt like I had something to prove when I was out there.”

5:42 – Gold Medal as High School Senior. “I was taking my SATs on the road and applying to schools.” 1998 was the first time women’s hockey was in the Olympics. “We got the first-ever gold … I was a kid, I was reading Seventeen Magazine and everyone else was reading Cosmo.”

9:14 – Hardest Loss to Swallow? In Salt Lake City in 2002, “we were 33-0 against Canada that year heading into the Gold Medal Game.”

10:21 – Carrying the 9/11 Flag at those Games. “It wasn’t an American moment, it was a moment where the world could come together. That’s what I love about the Olympics, it’s never about you, it’s never about your sport … it’s about the collective power of sport and how it can bring the world together.” This inspired Angela to later become a member of the International Olympic Committee.

11:29 – Playing for Harvard. “I loved it,” despite already competing in the Olympics. She was happy to play with people the same age going through similar experiences. There were also three other Olympians on her college team, including two from Canada.

14:36 – Heart Rate Recovery. Her teams wore chest straps in practice and used this metric to determine who played on lines together. “I’m super jealous of athletes now that get to use WHOOP … I was obsessed with prolonging my career and being at my peak, as an athlete that’s all you ever want to do.”

18:28 – Data Obsession. “One of the things I’m most proud of is that I played longer than any other man or woman in a USA hockey jersey … I had to understand my body and get better, I was obsessed with any data I could get my hands on and this is pre real tech era.” She journaled regularly, took her resting heart rate in the mornings, and even did a blood analysis for food sensitivity that led to changes in her diet.

24:27 – Pregame Naps. She took them regularly, before every game. “That 30-45 minute range was perfect, if I didn’t have a nap I was not happy.”

26:21 – Career Highlight. “There’s one World Championships, in 2008, that no one knows about which is by far one of my favorite hockey moments.” The team used their biggest perceived weakness, youth and inexperience, and turned it into a strength. “It was the power of the mind to overcome any obstacle.”

30:06 – Visualization and Meditation were essential during her playing career. Angela still meditates currently, on the train to work in the mornings. “When I do I’m so much more present the rest of my day.” Will mentions how the most successful people he’s met all meditate.

35:55 – Retired at 31, might she have played longer in today’s environment? “I was still good enough to play, I think I was just mentally tapped out.” She had a moment of contentment after winning the 2011 World Championships. “Business school just seemed so much more interesting at that point in my life.”

38:08 – Played in Men’s Pro Game, the first female non-goalie ever to do so. “I didn’t realize it would turn into a media circus. It wasn’t to prove something, it was just to have fun.” First brother and sister pro teammates?

43:25 – Do Women’s Sports Get a Fair Shake? “We don’t talk about women’s sports enough and we don’t invest enough for women’s sports to be successful.” Angela gives the example of not being able to buy concessions at many collegiate women’s games. “We handicap women’s sports in so many ways … rational people pick the better option.” However, the Olympics are one place where women’s sports are succeeding.

49:28 – The Apprentice. Angela was on the show following a fan voting during 2006 Olympics. “I got a job offer before I got fired officially.” On Donald Trump: “He was a huge sports fan, we talked sports a lot more than anything … I got the famous firing.”

53:02 – Member of IOC. She discusses her role in the Games coming to LA.

55:20 – New Olympic Sports. Will asks about squash, Angela talks about the process for how new sports get in. “It’s really hard to get on the platform because you basically have to push someone off.” How about eSports? “Not today, but they’re studying it very closely.”

1:00:28 – Prince Albert of Monaco. The most ridiculous person she’s found herself in a room with.

1:01:44 – Sports Innovation Lab. “We’re a market intelligence company for the sports technology community … we’re sitting at the middle of that market trying to objectively analyze it and provide advice and insight to our clients.” She explains their goal to enable people to make smart decisions with technology. “If WHOOP is changing the game, and there are companies like yours that are actually materially helping performance, we want those companies to succeed.”

1:07:14 – Athlete Data Leadership Board. “Through years of research we tried to identify the most pressing problems that leaders were facing.” For example, who owns athlete data? The board puts the various constituents in the same room. “We need common standards, we need common terminology, we need common things we can all agree on.”

1:13:11 – Netflix vs. Fortnite. Sports must now compete with other forms of entertainment to succeed, with the example that “Netflix announced their biggest competitor is Fortnite.” If sports doesn’t change and evolve and adopt new ideas it could lose out, potentially to eSports. “The next generation of what fans expect, they expect to see more, interact more…”

1:19:35 – Travel Tips? “Move your watch forward as quickly as possible, even before you leave on your trip.” Exercise when you arrive, go for a run instead of taking a nap. And finally, “it’s so much harder to recover if you’ve got alcohol in your system.”

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.