Olympian Julie Chu’s family understands precisely what is at stake in TODAY’s gold-medal game between the United States and Canada.
Today is an opportunity for Chu to be remembered as more of a legend than she has already become. Throughout these Sochi Games, we’ve heard the stories of Erin Hamlin (luge),Noelle Pikus-Pace (skeleton) and Bode Miller (alpine skiing). We’ve seen each of them wave an American flag and lose control of their emotions after winning silver or bronze. There will be no such satisfaction for Chu with a loss to the Canadians.
Chu, who turns 32 next month, has played in more U.S. matches than anyone except former U.S. and Harvard teammate Angela Ruggiero. She’s a five-time world champion, a three-time gold medalist in the Four Nations Cup and a three-time champion in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She is the first Asian-American to wear the U.S. jersey. But even she will admit that without gold, she will feel her career is incomplete (source espn).
Watching from the stands is Julie’s number one fan, her mom, Miriam. Born in New York City, Mrs. Chu is Chinese and Puerto Rican. She devotes considerable energies to promoting IOC partner Procter & Gamble’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign, with Julie, across the United States.
With #TEAMUSA Women’s Ice Hockey team to play Canada for the GOLD today, Miriam Chu and family, are hoping that 12 years of dreams will finally transform to reality!
Ms. Chu chatted with us two days before she ventured to Sochi! So glad we had the time together!
ASIANCE: Did you get criticism from other Asians, especially relatives, about letting her play a sport that wasn’t “ladylike” in a traditional Asian sense?
Mrs. Chu: No. The only one who wasn’t too happy at first was my mother-in-law, Grandma Chu. We used to pick her up in Jersey on the weekends. She ended up being Julie’s biggest fan. She didn’t understand the game but she knew if you shot the puck into the net, they better put the point up otherwise she would be yelling from the stands. She’s been to two Olympics but is no longer with us. She would always say, “Are we going to a game?” every time she would visit.
Julie was always an achiever. She wanted to be the best that she could be, whether it was academics or sports.
ASIANCE: Were you ever afraid that she’d get hurt, or end up with the traditional hockey player’s smile (with missing teeth here and there)?
Mrs. Chu: To tell you the truth, I was born and raised in Manhattan. I had no clue what hockey entailed. It never dawned on me that could happen. I always believed in giving her an opportunity and letting her shine. If it’s something they enjoy, it keeps them out of trouble. It keeps them occupied. Hockey for Julie has been a blessing. There were no girls’ teams for Julie up here in Connecticut, so she had to play with the boys. She was always a head taller than all the boys, so it never dawned on me that she could get hurt. Knock on wood! She’s been pretty healthy. No severe injuries. She hurt her knee once and that’s it.
ASIANCE: It’s always good for a girl to play with the boys!
Mrs. Chu: I have to give credit to her teammates. She has never been on a boys’ team where they didn’t accept her. She never wanted special treatment, first of all. She mentioned that to the coaches. So she was in the locker room with the boys. She earned her spot. She knew she had to work harder. As the boys got older, they got stronger and a lot more aggressive. I think that really helped Julie.
She did play softball and soccer when she went to boarding school because you have to play three sports. Her love was really Hockey.
ASIANCE: Did they have Hockey at her school?
Mrs. Chu: All the way through middle school, she went through the public school system. We signed her up with one of the youth leagues in Bridgeport, CT. That is where she grew up playing hockey. They had tournaments and you would travel all over.
When she was in middle school, they added the girls’ team but she was still too young for it. They invited her to play. So she was playing on a boys’ and girls’ team. She definitely got her practice.
She was the only girl, so she was noticed right away. On the girls’ team, she was noticed by the scouts and coaches of other teams. She knew that she would have to go away to school. Julie wanted to play for the National team eventually. We started looking at prep schools and luckily found one 30 minutes away from us. She lived there. And the rest is history!
The 1998 Olympic coach noticed her at one of the tournaments and approached her about playing in Lake Placid. That’s how she made the 2002 Olympic team.
ASIANCE: How did you guide her to juggle academics and athletics and other activities?
Mrs. Chu: All three of my children played hockey. Our rule in our house is that education came first. If you had homework, that was done first, then you go to practice. If it’s not done, then you don’t go to practice. We didn’t have a problem. They would self motivate themselves.
Julie was always an achiever. She wanted to be the best that she could be, whether it was academics or sports. When she went to Choate, she took her education seriously. She then ended up graduating from Harvard with honors! Juggling sports too is a big commitment. It helped her in her adult years and to be responsible.
All three of my kids were the same way, but Julie wanted to take it the furthest she could take it.
We always told our kids, that you have to rely on your education because there are not that many NHLers out there.
ASIANCE: How has your relationship with Julie changed over the years?
Mrs. Chu: She’s an adult now. I don’t tell her how to do things. Definitely the respect is there between mother and daughter, but also as a friend. She knows I’m always there for her. She always says I’m the quiet rock. If she’s going through a tough time, she knows she can just approach me. I know when to leave her alone too.
We’ve always had a great relationship. Now when we get together, we end up doing puzzles, all quiet things.
ASIANCE: What would you say to other Asian moms whose kids aren’t taking a more stereotypically Asian path in their interests?
Mrs. Chu: Let them try it. I don’t believe in saying no. If they love it and have a passion then they’ll shine. In the long run, you’ll be better off and so will they. I wouldn’t take any of it back. Hockey was the sport in our house. So we all played and watched as a family.
ASIANCE: Tell us something about Julie that we would be surprised to know?
Mrs. Chu: One thing I can say about Julie is she’s selfless. For Julie, it’s all about her team. She makes sure to pass to her teammates. She’s been like that all her life. It’s never about Me, Me, Me.
Oh she likes desserts! She’s a very healthy eater but she won’t deny herself. She likes all kinds.
ASIANCE: Do you consider yourself a Chinese Tiger Mom?
Mrs. Chu: Well I haven’t read her book, but I’m the Year of the Tiger! hahah! I was raised very strict. Growing up, I did not have the opportunity to play sports. It was school. That’s it. I didn’t want that for my kids. Looking back now, I want my kids to have the freedom to do more than just academics. I wanted them to experience life. The fun part of being a child was not there for me. I’m not saying I didn’t have fun.
My husband was born in China and raised in Hong Kong and he felt the same way. We always gave our kids the freedom. All we required is they finish what they start in terms of trying out a sport. Sometimes after a session, they would say they wanted to try something else.. They were never allowed to quit.
As long as they try their best. For example, my son was required to take a language. He tried Spanish and struggled. Then he switched to Latin and excelled!
Julie is the baby. My other daughter is into commodities. She’s married and has three kids. She has a 5, 3 and 1 year old.
ASIANCE: What are you doing for Chinese new Year? Do you celebrate it?
Mrs. Chu: Yes but this year is a little different because Julie is heading out to the Olympics. We usually have the New Year’s Eve dinner. The family gets together. It’s hard because Julie won’t be able to come home. I make the traditional 8 dishes. New Year’s day we visit the relatives. We exchange red pockets with the kids. Tradition is great!
ASIANCE: What are you looking forward to most in Sochi?
Mrs. Chu: I’m looking forward to Julie and her teammates bringing home that Gold!
ASIANCE: I remember Vancouver.
Mrs. Chu: Uhhh that was tough.
ASIANCE: You know they’re going to win it this time!
Mrs. Chu: They have a great team. The speed and talent on this team is incredible. It really just comes down to one game. They have to bring everything to that one game. 1) Finland 2) Switzerland and 3) Canada
ASIANCE: Do you follow any other Asian American athletes?
Mrs. Chu: I do follow Julie’s Harvard teammates. Some of the girls went onto different things. Now the cousins are coming along and doing different things. Our 5 year old granddaughter just started hockey. Julie gets a kick out of it. She was 18 months and went to the Vancouver Olympics. Anytime she sees a USA Jersey, she says, “JuJu’s team!”
JR Celski! He’s sponsored by Proctor and Gamble. I do follow Asian Americans! We know the family! You have to be inspired by these athletes going through all this and they still don’t give up!
ASIANCE: Just to even make the Olympics is such an achievement!
Mrs. Chu: They put so much emphasis on the gold, but it’s such an achievement to be there.
ASIANCE: Look at Mirai Nagasu!
Mrs. Chu: That was heartbreaking! I don’t understand how they could not have her. They try to put a reason behind it but doesn’t make sense. The commentators kept hinting about Ashley. I saw the competition. She still young and hopefully she’ll be more motivated.
See that’s why I’m happy Julie decided on a team sport. You win and lose as a team. Don’t blame anyone either. I don’t want to hear it!
We never been to Russia. My husband really wants to go to St. Petersburg. They require so many forms..background checks etc. The visa process, etc. None of the other Olympics we had to do any of this.
Be supportive, encourage.
It’s great what you guys are doing with Asiance!! Keep up the great work!
The 2014 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team faces Canada in the gold-med- al game of the XXII Olympic Winter Games. The match-up (Noon ET) will be broadcast live on NBC in the United States on February 20th.