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When Kendall Coyne Schofield was growing up in Palos Heights with a burgeoning love for hockey, she had to forge her own path in a sport that did not make it easy for a young girl to get a skate in the door. As a child who loved to read, she turned to the bookshelves to find stories about people who did what she wanted to do.
At the time, she couldn’t find any.
So the Olympic gold medalist recently decided to fulfill another life goal by writing her own book, “As Fast As Her,” released this week through publisher HarperCollins’ Zonderkidz imprint.
“I felt like we needed more representation on the bookshelf of women in hockey,” Coyne Schofield said. “I hope this book is able to inspire people to follow their dreams just like I did mine.”
The book follows her journey from childhood to 2014 Olympic silver in Sochi, 2018 gold in Pyeongchang and a groundbreaking performance as the first woman to compete in the fastest skater competition during an NHL All-Star weekend. It chronicles the challenges she faced along the way, how she got through them, the people who supported her journey and ultimately the triumphs that saw her gain ground, not only for herself but also future women entering the sport.
The book is littered with “Golden Coynes” — motivational comments that tie into pivotal moments in Coyne Schofield’s story. She hopes the book inspires others to overcome whatever obstacles they are facing.
“This book isn’t just for those who are interested in hockey,” she said. “It’s for those who are interested in following their passion, following their dreams.”
Coyne Schofield, who lives in Orland Park with her husband, NFL lineman Michael Schofield, is a graduate of Sandburg High School. She also played baseball and softball as a youth.
“I wasn’t born to play hockey,” she said. “I fell into this sport because I wanted to copy my older brother and do what he did.”
Revisiting that childhood was one of Coyne Schofield’s favorite parts about writing the book. She had a lot of conversations with her parents, going over what she remembered about a situation and how she felt in the moment, comparing it to their perspective. It reinforced just how much her parents’ love and support helped her get where she is.
“They shielded me so well from all the negativity,” Coyne Schofield said. “It really grew my passion and love for this sport.”
In the book, Coyne Schofield recounts simple complications along her journey, such as a coach assuming “Kendall” was just another boy on his baseball roster. She also offers a look behind-the-scenes at the national women’s hockey team boycott in 2017 while negotiating with USA Hockey for a new contract that would offer female players similar benefits to those men’s hockey players received.
“It’s my truth,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to read and understand the experiences I’ve had, that my teammates have had throughout this journey in hockey, especially as a woman. It’s not been a straight line. It hasn’t been easy. But I hope people read the story and realize it was all worth it.”
The painful and trying times are the ones Coyne Schofield said shaped her the most.
“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason — the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “While the ugly stings and you don’t understand why … things come full circle. You’re able to learn from it.”
Coyne Schofield has been jotting down stories for a long time — moments in her life in which something resonated or felt pivotal, usually because she responded to adversity. She worked with co-author Estelle Laure to turn those anecdotes into a cohesive life story. And she learned a lot about herself by reexamining those moments.
“While you’re in that moment, you don’t really understand it or realize it — whether it’s so difficult or exciting,” she said. “My book is really about a lot of those moments that helped get me where I am.”
Coyne Schofield said she is always happy to revisit her gold medal moments, as well as the NHL All-Star weekend, in which she was chosen as a last-minute replacement for the fastest skater competition. She not only made history by being the first woman to take part in the competition but also skated within a second of the overall winner, sparking another wave of interest in women’s hockey.
“One of my missions in life is to make this game more accessible and inclusive for everybody, so that no one experiences some of the feelings I had as a kid and adult in this sport,” Coyne Schofield said. “There’s so much work to be done, but every day’s an opportunity to make progress and to be better and to make this sport better.”
Tennis legend Billie Jean King wrote the forward for “As Fast As Her,” someone who Coyne Schofield said helped her feel like she belonged and encouraged her to create a better space in the sport for those to come. Of Coyne Schofield’s many goals, one that is always at the forefront of her mind is creating professional opportunities for women’s hockey players, which she continues to work toward with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.
“I want young girls to grow up in this sport to know they can make a living playing it, just like the boys they grow up alongside in this sport,” she said. “They deserve that opportunity.”
But her main focus since Oct. 1 has been preparing in Minnesota for her third trip to the Olympic Games, this time in Beijing. The goal is the same as always, she said: coming home with a gold medal. But the roster has changed significantly since Coyne Schofield was last at The Games in 2018, with four other players from Illinois on this year’s squad. But there is no difference in the drive, work and vision for Team USA, Coyne Schofield said.
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“It’s the quality of people that you’re surrounded with, and the desire and drive everyone has to compete for a gold medal,” she said.
But that team is facing obstacles that were not there four years ago, in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has already canceled recent games and the last stretch of the team’s tour. In addition to meeting the training requirements, players have to stay healthy up until they leave for Los Angeles on Jan. 24 and then Beijing on Jan. 27, as well as through The Games. Testing positive for the coronavirus could rule them out of The Games.
“It’s not going to be a normal Olympic game experience because of the pandemic, and we’re going to get through that together,” Coyne Schofield said. “It’s been a year of a lot of challenges, a lot of obstacles. I think we’re all finding ways to be resilient through it all.”
The excitement of what’s to come in February remains — even for someone such as Coyne Schofield, who has played on that stage and succeeded as a medalist twice already.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s your third or your second or your first, the excitement when you hear your name called to be on the Olympic team … it’s the same feeling,” she said. “It’s this feeling of joy, of relief, of satisfaction. It’s equally as special, even if it’s my third time. Any time you get the opportunity to represent Team USA at the highest level and compete in the Olympic Games, it’s a dream come true.”
Bill Jones is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.