The first female to practice with the NHL shares her story, including why she doesn't mind tweeting about her weight
Hilary Knight got her first glimpse of winter sports on the ski slopes. But when her family moved from California to Illinois, she and her three younger brothers swapped their skis for skates. “We were a very rowdy bunch,” she says, “so hockey was a big saving grace for my mom and us.” Determined to outshine her brothers, the 25-year-old excelled on the ice and went on to play at the University of Wisconsin. Now the 5-foot-11 star is part of the U.S. women’s national team and she recently became the first female to practice with the NHL (and she hopes a game is in her future). Here, she shares what it was like playing with the boys, why it’s important for her to be strong role model for women in sports, and just how much she can bench press (it’s impressive, ladies!).
Shape: Tell us how practice went with the Anaheim Ducks.
Hilary Knight [HK]: It was awesome. When you’re younger and you see the NHL players on TV, you want to be like them one day. So having the opportunity to skate with the guys and fulfill that part of my dream was an incredible feeling. There’s also a lot of media buzz because I was the first actual female skater to practice with an NHL team, so it was a historic moment. But it was fun. It felt like I was playing with my brothers. I hope one day I will be able to play in a game in the NHL, not just practice.
Shape: Do you ever get intimated out on the ice, especially with the boys?
HK: Not really. I would always go to school then go play hockey. Whatever was happening in my life would never come into the arena. When I get out there, I’m like a little kid again—everything in the world just washes away. That’s probably another thing that’s kept me in it; it’s been a really good channel to relieve stress.
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Shape: Why do you think it’s so important for you to be out there and promoting women in sports?
HK: I’ve gone through this growth process on my own. I love hockey and it’s opened up many opportunities for me. I’ve gotten my education; I’ve also learned that there’s a powerful and positive message on the underlayer of this. Here I am just trying to fund myself to play a sport, but the greater picture is that I'm a female athlete really pushing the envelope for women in sports.
Shape: Recently you got a lot of attention for tweeting about your weight. Can you talk a bit about that?
HK: Social media is huge. You can give people a behind-the-scenes look at your life. And, yes, a big thing that has come up is my weight. My coaches had asked if I could gain 10 pounds to fulfill this powerful, dominate forward role. I think I weighed 175 pounds at the time, and the goal was 185. My teammates and I were joking around, and I started tweeting out my weight. People responded like, ‘Wow, that’s so inspiring.’ But really, I just tweeted a picture of the scale; I didn’t know it would be a big deal. Then last fall, we were meeting with magazines and my publicist asked me to wear a sleeveless dress top. It wasn’t something I was really comfortable in, so I walked in kind of covering up. But the first thing the person said to me was, ‘Oh my gosh, what do you do for your arm workout? You look fantastic.’ I realized I need to own this and run with it. There are plenty of women who share the same insecurities and hopefully I can give them an inspiring message or motivate them in some way.
Shape: So what is your workout like?
HK: Right now we lift three to four times a week. One to two of them are circuits, like body-weight exercises and lighter weights. And then in the summer, it’s more heavy lifting about four times a week. When we get to the season, we just play and do some maintenance.
Shape: What’s the heaviest you’ve ever lifted for a bench press?
HK: My max right now is 169 pounds. I have a different style of lifting, because I have fractures in my back. I can’t do cleans and hangs and Olympic lifts, so we have to get creative with kettlebells.
Shape: I loved your quote on ESPN.com that you want to “shatter the body image that muscular isn’t feminine.” How did you get to that point?
HK: Being a part of a team sport, you have other people to lean on which helps. Also, I can go out and tell everyone I weigh 190 pounds, knowing that if I own it, it’s me—and that’s what other people are going to see. Hockey is a male-dominated sport. We’re wearing 20 pounds of equipment, but we’re also beautiful, gorgeous, young athletes. At first, I felt like I was put into this box because I played hockey. I thought that I was viewed a certain way, and I shouldn’t wear certain clothes. Finally, I stepped aside and said, 'that’s someone else’s creation of me. I can be feminine and be strong.’