BY NICOLE KIEFERT | PHOTO BY DOUG EDMUNDS
Hailing from Delafield, Alex Rigsby, goaltender of the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team, notes that bonds forged with teammates can be everlasting.
“I was lucky to have such great teammates and coaches who were supportive and it was great. I loved it. ... I had a great time (playing) with the guys and I am still such good friends with the guys I grew up playing with,” she says. As fate would have it, Rigsby is even engaged to a former teammate.
“We played together in fifth, eighth and ninth grade and his dad was my coach,” she notes of the initial relationship.
Rigsby started skating at just 5 years old and started learning the game of hockey at 6, following in her older brother’s footsteps.
“Of course I had to be just like my older brother,” she muses. “I wanted to play hockey and right away both of us were just absolutely hooked on it. I played other sports, but I always just fell in love with hockey.”
She went on to play hockey through high school and earned a spot as goalie on UW-Madison women’s hockey team, as well as the International Ice Hockey Federation’s U18, U22 and senior teams.
Rigsby notes that after trying on the goalie gear for the first time at a young age, she was instantly obsessed with the position. “You’re kind of in your own little world back there. You’re the last line of defense, so there’s a lot more pressure on it and I think I like the pressure of it and the competitiveness and … I like the competition of them trying to score and me trying to stop the puck,” she explains.
Rigsby had to overcome a major challenge along the way to Olympic gold. After having double hip surgery at the ages of 18 and 19, a doctor told her she would never play again – a verdict for which she sought a second opinion. After a tragic cut from the 2014 Winter Olympics team, Rigsby worked hard to make a spot for herself on the 2018 team.
“I (thought), ‘Alright, if I’m going for it, I’m going for 2018 and I’m all in and this is what I’m going to do,’” she says.
Following a long and intensive rehab program for her hip surgeries, Rigsby put everything into her training. She worked with a strength coach, a goalie coach and played on the men’s league.
“You have to be really accountable for yourself and make sure you’re putting in the work day in and day out,” she explains. “You’re at the gym at least two hours a day, you’re on the ice for a couple hours, and you know the added preparation (of) making sure you’re properly hydrated, (you have) proper nutrition going into your body, you’re getting the treatment that you need.”
All her hard work paid off and Rigsby earned a position as a goaltender on the U.S. women’s team, a team that broke a 20-year streak in the championship game against Canada, the third consecutive championship Olympic game against the country.
The game came down to a thrilling shoot-out that resulted in a 3-2 defeat and USA’s first gold medal in women’s hockey in two decades.
“This is something that we’ve worked so hard for (and) for so long and this is something that we aimed to accomplish, and to actually accomplish that was so surreal,” Rigsby says. “And to do it with the group of women that we did it with was just that much better.”
That strong group of women also had another thrilling victory the year prior: a successful boycott in honor of gender equality in USA Hockey. The team had tried negotiating with USA Hockey in the past to get the same staffing, equipment, medical treatments and more that the men’s hockey teams were offered, only to make no progress. In the end, the team decided that while they were the hosts of the World Championship game, they needed to take a stand and would not attend.
“We believed it was going to help grow the game of women’s hockey and that’s what we’re aiming to do and inspire the next generation,” she explains. “So for us, to be able to take a stance like that together as a team, and everyone stood strong, to come out together with an agreement from USA Hockey was absolutely incredible.”
The team missed the two-week training camp, but continued training on their own. Two days before their first game, the organization agreed to work with the women. The team then proudly went to Worlds and ended up winning the gold medal in overtime, the first gold medal World Championship win on U.S. soil, according to Rigsby.
Rigsby is currently back in training with hopes to make it to the 2022 Winter Olympics. With a degree in communications and minor in entrepreneurship and digital studies from UW-Madison, Rigsby would one day like to work in the business industry. “I think if hockey doesn’t work out then I would definitely like to pursue something in the business world, or even something with a nonprofit,” she says. “I would love to do something with that. … I want to learn from other people and take as many opportunities as I can.”
Already on a path to nonprofit work, Rigsby is currently in her second year as an athlete mentor for Classroom Champions, a nonprofit organization started by Olympic bobsledder Steve Mesler. The program utilizes national team level athletes as mentors for youth to inspire goal-setting, leadership and to prove that hard work and dedication can achieve dreams.
“I love working with kids and even doing something where I’m providing more opportunities for kids to be able to play more sports or get hockey equipment because it’s so expensive,” she says.
During her time with the Olympics, Rigsby also partnered with Ivory Ella, an online retailer affiliated with Save the Elephants that works with wildlife conservation of elephants.
Rigsby notes that she wouldn’t have gotten far without the constant support from her family, especially the selflessness and dedication of her parents who traveled all over the country in support of her and and her brothers without ever complaining.
“They’re my biggest supporters, my number one fans, (and I am) really excited to be able to share this journey with them and be able to have them over in South Korea,” she says. “(I’m) really lucky to have them.”