Jamie Hagerman Phinney Overcame Setbacks During Olympic Hockey Journey, Emerged Stronger

Phinney (center) with teammates Kelly Stephens (left) and Kim Insalaco (right) in Turin, Italy after their 4-0 win over Finland to claim the Olympic bronze medal.

After skating across the ice in the spotlight of the Olympic Games and fighting through two ACL tears, Assistant Director of Admissions Jamie Hagerman Phinney, through persistence and hard work, has overcome adversity to achieve her goals. After an ACL tear in the fall of her sophomore year of college, Phinney played through the injury in order to reach her Olympic aspirations. Eventually, Phinney earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey team roster and played in the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, earning a Bronze medal.


Growing up in Salisbury, Conn., on the campus of the Hotchkiss School where her parents taught, Phinney began her hockey career attending clinics and events intended only for boys. According to Phinney, she received some backlash and hostility from her male competitors, but an immense passion for the game pushed her to keep playing. 


“I was the only girl, and then as I got a little bit older with the boys, and the checking started, I could definitely handle my own, but I am not sure if everyone else was as comfortable with a ponytail flying around the ice. I found myself tucking my ponytail up inside my helmet so that I wouldn’t get name called and have things said and done to me that were just completely inappropriate. But, that also teaches you a lot of life lessons and asks you the question, ‘how bad do you really want this?’ because if I didn’t love the sport as much as I do, then all of those hard things would’ve made me question if I wanted to keep going with it,” said Phinney.


Phinney attended Deerfield Academy where she continued playing on the boys and girls hockey teams as a standout player. According to Phinney, invitations to U.S. hockey development camps cemented her goal of earning a spot on an Olympic team. 


“So, you start getting invited to those [hockey development camps] and every year you hope you’re getting better and the competition is obviously getting better and you just want to keep getting invited back. I was fortunate to be playing some pretty good hockey and was invited to those in the Summertime. That’s when I started to understand that there is a future for me in this sport… I was so passionate about the game so I just wanted to continue to find ways to play this game as long as I could,” Phinney said.


After graduating from Deerfield Academy, Phinney played hockey at Harvard University, continuing to participate in development camps. Shortly after, Phinney had the opportunity to represent the United States on the Under-22 National Team. 


“[The Under-22 National Team was] my first chance to represent the country which was amazing and we went to Germany. When you put that jersey on for the first time, you never forget that. That was during the time when I was a freshman at Harvard and having the opportunity to be a student athlete at a place like that is remarkable,” Phinney said.


At Harvard, Phinney was a standout on the hockey team, but also had a love for lacrosse. In a fall lacrosse tournament in her sophomore year, she suffered an ACL tear. After assessing Phinney’s significant knee injury, a doctor concluded that it would be possible to play through. Consequently, Phinney played through her hockey season and summer training with the tear.   Phinney continued to adapt on a torn ACL for three years, playing in a NCAA Championship her senior year.


“Our doctor said to me that there was a chance that we could maybe put off surgery and just strengthen your leg—‘Lets see if we could put a brace on you and stick with things that are on the ice and lets see how far we can go without getting the ACL surgery.’ The reason why is that if I had gotten it done at that point, in the fall of my sophomore year, I would have missed our hockey season, and if I had gotten it done in the summer, I would have missed the U.S.A. season because all of the U.S.A. hockey stuff is done over the Summer in terms of the training together and trying out for teams. So, I didn’t get my ACL fixed for three years,” said Phinney.


Although Phinney was on and off of the U.S. roster that would play in the Four Nations Cup and the World Championships, her goal was to be on the team for the 2006 Olympics. After being cut her senior spring, she was told by the head coach that she would never be able to make the team. According to Phinney, this fueled her to fully devote herself to making the team. 


“My senior spring I had gone to the tryouts for the World Championships and I got cut and I was super bummed out. I remember thinking you have to do whatever it takes because I never want to have that feeling of ‘what if?’ so that became my mantra, ‘no what if’s.’ If I don’t make the team in two and a half years, I will always be able to say there was nothing more I could’ve done,” said Phinney.


Phinney continued, “I called up the head coach after they had gotten back from the World Championships to understand what I needed to fix about my game because my goal in life was to make the Olympic team in 2006. The coach said ‘You’re good but not good enough to play on a bigger ice surface, so you are never going to make the Olympic team, Jamie. You need to know that. You need to come to grips with it. You need to move on.’”


Having been acquired by a professional team outside of Toronto, Phinney trained with Canadian national team players leading up to her tryouts. According to Phinney, there were times of doubt, but she developed a clear, determined mindset to make the United States Women’s National Team.


“My mindset needed to be ‘Jamie, you need to be the best version of you on the ice and off the ice in two years from now, and if you are and you still get cut, then you will be the proudest person in the world.’ When I changed my mindset to having to be my best not for making the team but just compared to your own personal assessment, that’s when things really started to shift for me,” Phinney said.


According to Phinney, a focused mindset and a repaired ACL drove her to new heights. She was selected for the U.S. team in 2005 and won a World Championship in Sweden for the first time in United States Women’s Hockey history. Phinney was then invited to the Olympic team tryouts, which she had fully prepared for even after being told she would not be able to make the team.


“At the back of my mind, I’ve got this commentary from the coach saying you’re never going to make the team. That always fires me up a little bit when someone tells me I can’t do something. I’ve got that little voice in my head and I know I have trained well, looked at all angles of my game, nutrition, and my sleep. Everything was dialed in,” said Phinney.


After months of practicing and team training, Phinney made it through two rounds of cuts, solidifying her place on the 2006 United States Women’s Hockey team. According to Phinney, the attitude had worked and she was set on a new journey to Turin, Italy for the Winter Olympics.


“That was an amazing moment. You’re stuck in a space of elation. I was a bubble player and I knew I was probably one of the last ones that had been decided to make it or not. I was proud of the effort and I knew there was nothing more I could have done. My ‘no what ifs’ had paid off. We headed off to Italy and we got there and it’s just this amazing sense of pride for your country and joy that you’re here, but we were also on a mission,” Phinney said.


The U.S. team fell short to Sweden in the semi-final round, but claimed a 4-0 victory against Finland to earn the Bronze medal. According to Phinney, the experience was unforgettable as she played on the highest stage and earned an Olympic medal.


“That’s where it got interesting because our team had worked hard but I am not sure as a team we had that collective ‘what if.’ We were not as a team the most well prepared and that’s what showed when we lost to Sweden in a double overtime shootout in the semi-final. We lost the opportunity to compete for a gold medal. We played Finland in the Bronze game and won that 4-0, and we were able to walk away with an Olympic medal which was amazing,” said Phinney. 


According to Phinney, she fully devoted herself to hockey and played until she physically couldn’t. A second ACL tear cut Phinney’s 2010 Olympic aspirations short, and she decided to move on from playing. 


“My end goal was to play the game until it passes you by or you physically couldn’t get there, and I was told that I was done. If I could have kept playing, I would, but I was told that the game was too fast and I tried and I tried and there was no more space for me and I knew that I was done at that point,” said Phinney.


After her playing career, Phinney coached for the Norwegian National Women’s Team as well as teaching and coaching at various boarding schools, finding her way to Andover. Phinney described the effect that playing hockey and battling adversity on the ice enabled her to grow and use that strength outside of sports. According to Phinney, the lessons she has learned from hockey have allowed her to be the best possible mom for her five-year-old son George. 


“I have a son with special needs and, [in] my journey as George’s mom and my ability to be the best version of myself for George, I have to ask myself all of the questions that I did when I was training and playing for that period of my life. This is hard, this is challenging. It’s never about the game itself because sport is what is allowing me to be George’s mom. My son is non verbal, he can’t walk, and he uses wheelchairs to get around and he is five years old and this is the hardest thing that I have ever done, but it has been made so much more easier and so much more joyful because sport taught me how to fight,” said Phinney. 


Phinney continued, “Sport taught me how to find the best of myself that I didn’t know existed. If I didn’t have these experiences from sport, there is no chance I would be able to show up the way I am hoping to show up for my son. That is always my biggest push for sports and attention for sports. It’s not about games and it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about those lessons it gives us when life really shows us what we are supposed to be here for.”