Julie Chu, a four-time Olympian for women’s ice hockey, knows what it’s like to overcome adversity.
Most think of hockey as a “man’s sport” much like football, but Chu said the game is changing and she’s working to ensure that change continues.
“In a lot of ways, hockey is still considered a boys’ or men’s sport and I can say it’s changed 100 percent since I was 8 years old when it was my sister and me who were the only girls playing, and now if you walk into a rink there’s tons of girl teams there or coed teams and that was just nonexistent when I was younger,” Chu said during a Tuesday visit to the Citi building in Long Island City. “Do we still want it to be even bigger and grow more? Absolutely, but we’re on a good path.”
Citibank has sponsored Team USA in the upcoming Olympic games and has asked seven athletes, including Chu, to pick a sports program as part of the “Every Step of the Way” program.
Chu chose Try Hockey for Free, a nonprofit that gives kids the chance to come to a rink and learn the basics of ice hockey. The program provides equipment at no cost to the family.
“A lot of times hockey is not accessible,” Chu said. “It’s not one of those things where you can grab a $5 soccer ball and try soccer or baseball but it’s one of those things where gear could be, at least, a couple hundred dollars, maybe more. With the donation that Citi’s making, we’ll be able to purchase about 500 sets that can then go around to these title events.
“For me, if we can get a handful of these guys to fall in love with hockey, it’d be awesome.”
Chu, a Queens native, met with employees at Citi Bank’s Long Island City branch and stressed the importance of getting kids involved and especially allowing girls to try sports they may not otherwise consider.
While fighting has become a commonality in professional hockey, Chu said there are plenty of good lessons to learn on the ice.
“I know there is a sense that there is a lot of fighting in hockey but a lot of that happens in the NHL, not in youth games,” she said. “The great thing about hockey is you get to fall down a lot and you have to get up and just keep that resiliency.”
Chu will be competing as co-captain of the USA women’s hockey team in the 2014 Winter Olympic in Sochi, and while she has less than a month before she will leave on a flight to Russia, she said it was important to take the time out to give back.
“It’s so much bigger than just us as athletes,” she said. “I think if we didn’t have the opportunities as a young kid to try hockey, even though it was nonexistent for girls at that time, I don’t think I’d be sitting here. Giving back to the community is important to us.”
If you would like to vote for Try Hockey for Free to receive $50,000, you can visit everystep.citi.com and click on Chu’s name.
“These kids bring out the kids in us,” she said. “It’s an exciting time and we’re looking forward to the future and what will happen with these kids and, hopefully, all our work pays off.”