In a year that has seen a brave battle for pay equity, bringing an enhanced essence to the sense of family and teamwork that defines the wondrous women of USA Hockey, to the first professional women’s ice hockey game in Pittsburgh, it signified a paradigm shift. With the validation of the game in the United States reaching monumental status, there were other symbolic aspects that would add to is growing popularity.
With the US national team defeating its eternal rival Canada in the gold medal game of the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships in Plymouth, Michigan, it only added to the sense of history, signifying the first IIHF gold captured on home soil. Building on such a remarkable momentum, there is a heightened importance and impact among the heroes of women’s hockey, propelling them into a unique facet of popular culture.
Six members of the gold medal winning roster have shown tremendous bravura, appearing in the pages of the 2017 ESPN Body Issue. Headlined by team captain Meghan Duggan, Brianna Decker, recognized as the Most Outstanding Player at the 2017 IIHF Worlds, Jocelyne and Monique Lamoreux, defensive stalwart Kacey Bellamy, also an alternate captain and goaltender Alex Rigsby, this pictorial expresses the intersection of their impact, appearing as confidently beautiful and yet powerfully assertive.
For Duggan, the chance to do this with her teammates provided an element of ease. With the team’s identity forged on the values of camaraderie, collaboration and alliance, it boasts one of the most admirable cultures in sport. The photo shoot functioned as a startling extension of such admirable ideals,
“Without question. It’s the only way I would ever want to do it. We are a family. We are a team. And we wanted to tell our story and get our message out there together as a powerful united unit. It was an incredibly unique experience that I am so thankful we got to do together!”
Since its inaugural issue in 2009, one which saw Serena Williams among the first female superstars to grace its pages, the ESPN Body Issue, which features world-class athletes in a complete state of undress, annually generates a remarkable amount of awareness. Reflecting on the experience of participating in the photo shoot, Bellamy recalls how the most significant element was the fact that it was a shoot which would feature multiple teammates, breaking away from the more traditional shoots that tend to feature one athlete.
“My reaction at first was thinking how unique it was going to be for a group of us to do it. I know it is more individual people but for me I think being in a group would be more comfortable obviously but also more memorable. I have followed this magazine for years and to see all the different body types for all the various sports is such a powerful thing for the world to see because you know each athlete works tremendously hard to be the best they can.”
That sense of teamwork was also prominent for Brianna Decker. Having captured the 2017 NWHL scoring championship, she was named by The Hockey News as one of the five best women’s ice hockey players in the world during the autumn of 2016. Having captured a Clarkson Cup with both Bellamy and Duggan, plus the inaugural Isobel Cup title as Bellamy’s teammate, the chance to appear in the ESPN Body Issue together represents a symbolic trophy,
“When I first was I asked to participate and model for the Body Issue I was so excited, because I found out I would be doing it with my teammates. What motivated me was my teammates and to show other women that strong is beautiful.”
During this near decade-long run, women’s ice hockey has not been prominently featured in the Body Issue’s pages. On the contrary, members of the US women’s soccer team have been featured on an almost annual basis, highlighted by prominent superstars such as Abby Wambach and Christen Press, both members of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship team.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) has also seen a significant number of its female fighters highlighted in the pages. Among them were Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, both women’s champions in UFC. Of note, the 2017 Body Issue sees soccer star Julie Johnston Ertz in a pictorial with her husband, Philadelphia Eagles member Zach Ertz, while Michelle Waterson, who ranks sixth in UFC’s women’s strawweight division, adds her name to the list of MMA competitors.
Of note, the first player to appear in its pages was Julie Chu, back in 2011. Three years later, Hilary Knight, a teammate from the US National Team would become the next to be amalgamated into the Body Issue experience. Gaining an unprecedented level of popularity, the pictorial generated cultural currency for Knight.
Among the athletes, both male and female, that were featured in the 2014 edition of the Body Issue whose presence was most noteworthy, Knight displayed an amazing emotional courage, revealing that she suffered from body image issues during her younger years.
Regarding her six teammates following in her Body Issue footsteps, Knight never had the opportunity to advise them on what to expect. As Duggan indicated, many aspects related to which athletes would be featured in the photo shoot were not made known until the release date,
“None of us actually spoke with Hilary about the photo shoot or the issue because they keep a lot of it under wraps until it’s released. But she is obviously supportive of us and the magazine having done it herself!”
Considering that Knight’s photo from the Body Issue is one that fans still seek to get autographed, it is a reality that six of her teammates appearing in the 2017 Body Issue may need to get accustomed to.
Coincidentally, in the same year that Knight appeared in the ESPN Body Issue, she also appeared with Bellamy and Decker in another popular magazine. Along with Kendall Coyne, Kelli Stack and Jessie Vetter, they were adorned in $1.8 million worth of diamonds from J.B. Hudson Jewelers, all in red-themed formal wear in a photo shoot in Blaine, Minnesota for People Magazine.
As Bellamy mentions, the experience of having worked with Decker at that photo shoot, made her less nervous to appear in the Body Issue, as the sense of familiarity allowed for a degree of comfort. Considering that the youthful looking Bellamy turned 30 this year, her involvement symbolizes that peak physical condition and poised appeal are timeless, and that any perceptions of age are nothing more than portentous labels.
With all six players inhabiting the same space at once, the photo shoot taking place at the rink, which will always be home to these players. As negotiating the removal of their robes took place in almost an instant, Bellamy mentions how the feeling of glee and relative abandon quickly replaced any nervous energies, creating a confident persona.
“Ohhhhh yes, it was much easier doing this with teammates, because you are naked, and at first when we are on the ice we are posing with the robes on and all of a sudden they tell us, ‘Ok, robes off!’, it was real.
It was weird for only about a minute and then it was just normal but I think if I was alone I would have been way more nervous. My teammates just knew how to keep it light the whole time and since we were inside a freezing rink you can imagine the jokes. This was a very unique experience I’ll remember forever.”
As a side note, that February 10, 2014 cover dated issue of People Magazine was notable for more than its highlight of American athletes competing in Sochi. With Christie Brinkley featured on the cover of the issue, it would also result in a unique instance of six degrees of separation.
A longtime fan of the NHL’s New York Islanders, Brinkley was featured with her daughters in a pictorial for the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. That same issue featured tennis stars Serena Williams (a former Body Issue model), Eugenie Bouchard (the first female athlete from Quebec to appear in the SI Swimsuit Issue) and Caroline Wozniacki. Currently ranked sixth on the WTA Tour, Wozniacki also appears in this year’s Body Issue, the first athlete to appear in both in the same year.
Heading into the Body Issue photo shoot, Bellamy and Decker were not the only players with modeling experience. Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, the first twins to compete in women’s ice hockey in the Winter Games, both were featured in Sports Souls: The Book. Captured behind the lens of Andrea Mead Cross, a former All-America swimmer turned photographer, the book combines the philosophies of what makes the athletic subjects excel in their chosen sport, while also focusing on athletes helping animals in need.
As the first twins to appear in the Body Issue, Jocelyne and Monique, who was also an alternate captain for the US at the 2017 IIHF Worlds, are not the only members of this sensational group of hockey women to have made history. Alex Rigsby, who is also their teammate on the Minnesota Whitecaps, becomes the first hockey goaltender to grace the Body Issue’s pages.
Also the first female goaltender to have played with USA Hockey’s Under-18, Under-22 and Senior Teams, Rigsby also shares another unique trait. In her freshman season with the Wisconsin Badgers, she called Decker and Duggan teammates, all donning the iconic W logo on their red jerseys, as all three contributed towards the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four championship, the fourth in program history.
In discussing the impact of the Body Issue, Decker symbolically looks at the bigger picture, proud to be in the company of two other notable women that make an appearance in this year’s edition. Kirstie Ennis, who survived a helicopter crash during military service in Afghanistan, has turned the despair of an amputation into the chance to become one of the best Paralympic snowboarders in the world. With mountain climbing as one of her hobbies, it would serve as the backdrop for her Body Issue pictorial.
Novlene Williams-Mills, a Jamaican track and field star who has appeared in five Summer Games as a sprinter not only shares in the Olympic heritage of the women’s hockey heroes. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer prior to the 2012 London Summer Games, she would stoically participate in the Games. Although she would suffer a mastectomy in 2013, she not only becomes the first breast cancer survivor to appear in a Body Issue, she embodies Decker’s sentiments that “strong is beautiful”.
“It is fascinating to see what other athletes do to train to get outstanding bodies. I am very proud and honored to be in the same issue as Novlene Williams-Mills and Kirstie Ennis. Both of them have very inspiring stories and I am glad they can share their story with the world.”
Considering the courage of standing up to USA Hockey for pay equity, the ability to overcome and pressures of competing on home ice in their quest for gold, the bravery of gracing the ice wearing only their skates revealed an authentic confidence. No longer bound by their innocence, these six sensational women showed that they were capable of shaping their own destinies, staking their own claim in the sporting world.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Jeff Lipsky (People Magazine), Joe Pugliese (ESPN Body Issue)
To view the Body Issue photos, please visit: http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/19742921/espn-body-issue-2017#!athletes_uswomensnationalhockeyteam