Q&A with Hilary Knight

The star skater on body confidence, her exercise routine, and brain health in hockey.

Ask anyone who knows Hilary Knight what she’s like and they’ll tell you she’s a phenom. She's a member of the U.S. women’s hockey team and the new National Women’s Hockey League (the first paid league for women), a decorated Olympian with two silver medals, and a powerhouse forward who propels every team she skates with forward. Off the ice, she’s a champion, too—for body image and female athletes. And with fierce determination, she’s shattering stereotypes, bringing her passions into the limelight, and changing sport as we know it. We recently caught up with Knight about breaking boundaries, her recovery techniques, and how she responds to those who say ice hockey is a “guy’s game."

You’ve been vocal about shattering female body image stereotypes and showing that strong is sexy. What is body confidence to you?
It's looking at everything external going on, owning your own body, and thinking: ‘I am happy with who I am and how I look and I feel really sexy.’

It takes serious body confidence to pose for ESPN'sBody Issue.
[Laughs]When ESPN called, I was like, ‘Oh, heck yeah. This is going to put women’s hockey on the map.’ But when it came time for the shoot, I started to think, ‘What did I sign up for?’ I’m rarely stark naked! It’s funny, you’re worried about the eight people in the room, then months later, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, the whole world is going to see me naked.’ But if I didn’t do it, it would have been a huge missed opportunity in terms of female body stereotypes, specifically body stereotypes regarding female athletes.

This year, you joined the National Women’s Hockey League. What led you to that decision?
I felt like it was the right decision in terms of taking a step forward. I wanted to break the cycle and go for something better—I wanted to try to build toward something bigger. Do we sit around and talk about issues that may or may not change or do we do something else that could make lasting change?

So what would you tell someone who says hockey is a guy’s game?
I would tell them to come out and watch a game.

Speaking of games, the gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics—which set viewing records—was also an upset. The U.S. left with the silver medal. How do you overcome such a letdown?
I don’t think it’s about overcoming anything. It’s about accepting it. It happened and there’s no way to go back. It’s just: How do we move forward and change the outcome? I also think about how I am going to make the next Olympic team—just because you were there in 2014, doesn’t mean you’ll be there in 2018. At my first Olympics in 2010, a lot of us kind of expected to be back in 2014. We actually only had about half of the people back. It’s a tough team to continue to make—in the best way possible.

So what’s more important: hard work or talent?
Hard work. We have a sign in our gym that says ‘Hard work beats talent.’

What would people be surprised to know about your diet?
I allow cheeseburgers. I allow chocolate bars. People tend to think athletes are so disciplined that they don’t eat anything else. I eat a lot of whole foods, but it’s important to have balance and be a normal person—you can’t train and eat like a machine every single day of the year.

Does your exercise program have any out-of-the-box elements to it?
I’d say my recovery techniques: I’m huge into dry needling, acupuncture, fire cupping, and NormaTec—essentially, giant booties you pull up to your hips that promote blood flow and recovery.

What’s been the single biggest game-changer in your fitness regimen?
Consistency. Showing up every single day and understanding that this timeframe is time to work hard—to have fun, but work hard. That compounding effect makes a significant difference.

Concussions in hockey make headlines a lot—and brain health proves to be an important health issue.Athletes like Daniel Carcillo have left the game because of this. What are your thoughts?
I think with any sport, there’s risk. You just have to be honest with yourself and be extremely cautious when it comes to your brain—it’s an unknown territory in many senses, with athletes and specialists still trying to identify the best treatments for concussions and how to prevent them. Some equipment companies are also trying to introduce different types of materials that can help identify hits, so that from a younger age, we can acknowledge when someone has had a serious impact.