My first memory of the Olympics was watching Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor absolutely dominate in women’s beach volleyball at the 2004 Athens Summer Games. Having just started playing volleyball, I couldn’t believe how two women could cover a whole court, and on sand, no less. I gave myself eight years, a slightly unrealistic goal, to get good enough to compete at the 2012 Olympics in London when I’d be 16. Saratoga native Kathleen Kauth tells a similar story about a different sport. She remembers going to see the US play Canada in the 1994 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Lake Placid when she was 15. “I thought, gosh, I didn’t even know that was possible,” Kauth said. “It immediately became something I wanted to do.” Four years later, women’s ice hockey became an Olympic sport.
It’s here that Kauth’s and my own paths diverge: While 12 years after Athens I was turning in my kneepads, 12 years after Lake Placid, Kauth was winning an Olympic bronze medal. “Losing in the semifinal game in a shoot-out to Sweden was devastating at the time, absolutely devastating,” Kauth says. “Our team listened to Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” on repeat for a while there. But it’s funny now, 12 years removed, all you remember is going to the Olympics and winning a medal.”
Kauth’s road to the 2006 Torino Olympics was anything but easy, though. Shortly after making the national team in 2001, her father died in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. A few months later, Kauth was one of four players cut from the team when it was reduced from 25 to 21 players before the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. “I think my father dying, in some way, shape or form, did impact my decision to continue on and try in 2006,” Kauth said. “I think it enabled me to make the decision that the rest of life could wait—I really wanted to achieve this dream, even if the rest had to wait for another four years.”
Kauth now lives in Toronto with her partner, four-time Canadian Olympian Jayna Hefford, and their three children. She serves on the board of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and works in the clean energy field. But she misses Saratoga. “I have to say, and I say this without any embellishment, Saratoga Springs is one of the most special towns I’ve ever been to, and I was lucky to grow up there,” Kauth said. “At the time, I didn’t know it was so nice: its natural beauty, history, really good food, the community spirit—all of it. I think just knowing how great a city Saratoga is and not living there now, sometimes I think, ‘Jeez, why not?’ But I live in a pretty special place too.”
Obviously, Kauth still had unforgettable memories of representing our country on the biggest athletic stage of all. Falling short of my own childhood Olympic dreams, all I can do now is cheer for Team USA from my living room. And that is pretty darn special too.