Tara Mounsey knows hard knocks - how to dish them out, and how to rebound from them. A member of the US Olympic women's ice hockey team, Mounsey first turned heads in 1996, when she overcame reconstructive knee surgery to lead the Concord (NH) High School boy's team to an undefeated season, and a state championship. Among the accolades she garnered at season's end was Player of the Year, the unofficial "Mr. Hockey" of New Hampshire. Post-grad, Mounsey switched to women's hockey and, following a stellar freshman year at Brown, was tabbed as a starting defenseman for the national team, which defeated arch-rival Canada for the first Olympic gold in women's ice hockey at the Nagano Games in 1998.
With another Olympics on the horizon, Mounsey is again recuperating from major knee surgery, and is again a force to be reckoned with during the national team's Skate to Salt Lake Visa Victory Tour. To play at such a consistently high level, Mounsey relies on a solid aerobic base built through running and cycling, the ability to dip into anaerobic energy reserves cultivated during interval training, and the power developed from years in the weight room. Hockey, she says, is a unique sport, since it requires explosive bursts of energy followed by quick rest. Her training regimen reflects that, whether she's on the track, the stationary bike or the ice - intervals of sprints, recovery, repeat.
"The goal is to get your recovery as quick as possible, to be able to skate as hard as possible for 30 seconds, and then recover and be able to go again in 15 seconds," she says. "It's one of the most difficult games to mimic. Even when you're running, or using the exercise bike, you're not using the same muscles that you do when you skate."
Then there's the weight room. Mounsey's muscle does double duty, protecting her knees while allowing her to play a trademark rugged style. Though bodychecking is supposedly illegal in women's hockey, you'd never know it to watch a classic United States-Team Canada donnybrook. And Mounsey isn't about to shy away from mucking it up along the boards. "That's just my style of play and I refuse to change it," she says. "I stand my ground." To keep standing, Mounsey focuses on an upper body regimen of bench press, shoulder press, pull-ups, lat pull-downs and midsection work, such as abdominal crunches. The lower body ("The most important, because skating requires such a deep knee bend," says Mounsey) is strengthened through sets of squats, lunges and hamstring curls.
"Weight training is going to improve your game, and it's going to keep you out of the trainer's room," says the 23-year-old Mounsey. "If you just run 10 miles, three days a week. you're going to develop your slow-twitch muscles. Hockey's a game of speed. So you want to first develop your fast-twitch muscles. Make the anaerobic a priority, and the aerobic a secondary yet important aspect of your training."