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Hughes: Life after Olympic gold  

Sarah Hughes
Special to

Since the Olympics, my life has been constant excitement. One highlight was meeting President Bush in the Oval Office. Having my mom and my coach there to join me made the visit even more meaningful because they have been by my side all along. I visited the White House again three weeks later because the President invited the whole Olympic team there. Seeing all the Olympians again was fun.

The invitation to the White House originally came after I sat with Vice President Cheney and his family at the gold medal hockey game in Salt Lake. I asked him if there was anything I could do to help and I talked to him a little bit about issues related to education.
Hughes leads all athletes with five ESPY nominations.

When I was at the White House, I did an interview on Voice of America, a news radio program that is broadcasted over the whole world. It was really interesting because my interview was translated into hundreds of languages, although they don't broadcast in the United States. I spoke about how everyone has a dream. I was an athlete who had a dream to win the Olympics. I was one of the very few people who dreamed it was possible. I didn't listen to others who doubted I could win. And I didn't give in to the popular consensus. If you believe in something, don't give it up. If you want to learn or get an education, you can do it.

I even was going to go on a trip to Afghanistan to talk to the school kids on the day they were opening the schools again, but the trip was canceled because it was deemed too dangerous.

I've been really busy lately because I've been on a skating tour that goes to a lot of different cities in the country. I usually try to skate on the weekends, so I can attend school during the week.

Other than that, I'm doing everything that I wanted to do before I won the gold medal. I like to go to class, hang out with my friends and practice my skating. But not only am I able to do these things, I can also enjoy my Olympic medal by doing things like going to the ESPY awards on July 10. At first it was a little exhausting. My moment was so overwhelming. I wasn't surprised that I skated well, but I was shocked that I won. That in itself was really life-changing. There were millions of people sharing my Olympic performance with me, as I found out later. It's so nice to have people say that "I was there," and "Oh, I saw it on TV." To share that with them is really special.

Also, I was on the Wheaties box. That was really cool. I've always admired Tiger Woods. To follow him on the Wheaties box was really extraordinary. I went to a Wheaties conference and they gave me a picture from him. He had signed it: "To Sarah, congratulations on a magnificent performance." I still have it. It's locked up and preserved. I don't want anything to happen to it.

My medal is in the closet, though. I haven't done anything to special with it yet. It's not the medal that I cherish -- it's what it symbolizes. Although I can't speak for all of the medalists, I think what's special to a lot of the athletes is the entire Olympic experience. That is what we remember -- so much more than a piece of metal.

Now, I'm extremely excited about the ESPY awards. I'm looking forward to going to the awards and meeting the other nominees who have provided inspiration to me throughout my career.

I love to watch all sports. The NHL is awesome. My dad was a hockey player, so I always like to watch the games with him. I skate in a lot of the NHL arenas. I've dropped a puck at the start of a New York Rangers game and I was given jerseys from the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Most of the time you see athletes on TV, they are very focused and in their element. At the ESPY awards, you get to see people from other sports -- say a tennis player with a football player -- and watch them interacting. It's interesting to see the athletes from the different sports celebrating their achievements, watching them laugh and having fun with athletes from different categories.

Every year, I watch the ESPY's. There are always so many great athletes there. The thought that I can be viewed in the same vein is amazing.

I was looking at some of the ESPY nominees, and I don't know how I'm going to compete with the Super Bowl and Game 7 of the World Series. That's some tough competition.
Sarah Hughes

I was looking at some of the ESPY nominees, and I don't know how I'm going to compete with the Super Bowl and Game 7 of the World Series. That's some tough competition.

Because my sport has a higher ratio of training time to competition, it's really rewarding for figure skating to get this type of recognition. Skaters don't get too many opportunities to show the sports world what we can do.

However, as an Olympic champion, I do have an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives. I've been selected as a spokesperson for General Electric. We've established a Heroes for Health program that acknowledges the real heroes in medicine who perform miracles every day. I'll travel across the country to give awards to these dedicated people who are helping in a field that affects everyone. It's affected my life because my mother survived breast cancer. So, I'm excited about helping them.

Winning the Olympic gold medal has been very fulfilling, but it's the everyday grind that you must love if you want to compete successfully. Therefore, this summer, training will be my priority as I look forward to next season's competitions.

Sarah Hughes, who won the gold medal in women's figure skating, has the most ESPY nominations of any athlete this year with five: Best Female Athlete, Best Game, Best U.S. Olympian, Best Moment and Breakthrough Athlete.

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