A Seat at the Table With the Women of the NWHL

Editor’s Note: Join us this week as we celebrate the women who are breaking through barriers at the National Women’s Hockey League. Today’s post is interview 3 of 4 in a series titled Women of the NWHL.

In the latest edition of our series, A Seat at the Table, we introduce you to three women who manage work, life and professional athletic careers in the NWHL. While they might be rivals on the ice (yup, they all suit up for different teams in the league), they have a shared mission to work hard, play hard and show the world what professional women’s hockey is really about.

Pull up a chair and top off that cup of coffee as we get the inside scoop on being a professional hockey player and lady boss professional from three women who redefine work/life balance.

Meet the Team:

  • Kiira Dosdall (Top Left), Defense, New York Riveters (By Night); Client Success Manager at Schoology (By Day)
  • Lisa Chesson (Far Right), Defenseman, Buffalo Beauts (By Night); Office Manager at Prevedere + Assistant Coach, Girls U-19 AAA Blue Jackets (By Day)
  • Kaliya Johnson (Bottom Left), Defense, Connecticut Whale (By Night); Boston College Intern for the Senior Woman Administrator (By Day)

Congratulations on leading the implementation of the NWHL! This is an incredibly exciting moment for women’s sports. How does it feel to be a part of such a ground-breaking period of time?

Kiira: It’s difficult to grasp. When I was hearing about the NWHL in the spring of 2015, I decided I would do anything I could to be a part of it. Not only is hockey the sport I love, but continuing to push the limits of women’s rights is something I care about deeply. This league symbolizes one of the greatest, most important social shifts of our time, and I am beyond inspired to help it succeed.

Lisa: It is pretty incredible to be a part of history with the NWHL. Being one of the only girls playing professional women’s hockey is special, especially when I look back to dreaming as a kid.

Kaliya: It’s amazing to be apart of history. Not only to help and watch this league grow, but to also be a positive influence for the younger generation

Taking a step back, how did you become interested in hockey? How long have you played competitively?

Kiira: I became interested in hockey at age three, when I would put my brother’s equipment on repeatedly. I joined a team at age five, and joined boys’ travel teams at age eight.

Lisa: My mom would take my brother and I to watch my dad play hockey at night. My brother started playing, so of course, I wanted to start as well. I took figure skating lessons and switched to hockey soon after. I was around five or six years old when I started playing on a team.

Kaliya: I started playing hockey after I saw the Mighty Ducks movie when I was two years old. After seeing the movie, I started skating, but I didn’t actually start playing hockey until I was 4 years old. It’s been 17 years now, that’s crazy to think about.

Focusing on your day jobs, how did you land your current positions? What was your career path?

Kiira: I moved to Austria after college to play hockey and teach at the American International School of Vienna. When I moved home, I landed a coaching and teaching job at a prep school and played for the CWHL team in Boston. Then, I decided to move to New York to be closer to friends and family, and Schoology was a perfect fit. It’s a growing company filled with incredibly smart people who care deeply about education. Almost everyone on my team is a former teacher.

Lisa: Having graduated with a degree in meteorology, I always thought about doing research or becoming a storm chaser. After my time with the National team was over, I really wanted to move back to Columbus, Ohio. I was introduced to the CEO of Prevedere (based in Columbus) and traveled back and forth from Chicago to meet with him prior to getting the job. Although I am not pursuing a career in weather, I’m in a great position now where I am able to learn and grow.

Kaliya: I actually met with my boss to talk with her about what I wanted to do after college, before graduation occurred, and she suggested I apply for her internship. Turns out, it was exactly what I wanted to do and it would be a great step in the right direction for me. I eventually would like to do community relations for either a sports team or company.

In viewing a video featuring Kiira made by Newsday, it’s evident you all are the true definition of hustle. How do you all balance day jobs, personal lives and being a professional athlete?

Kiira: We never stop! I go home to sleep, and that’s the way I like it!

Lisa: Balancing all three takes some getting used to, but in order to be a professional athlete there are sacrifices to be made. My day typically starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends around 10 p.m. depending on the day. I usually plan out my entire day (meals and all) so I feel more grounded. When there is a day off, I always feel like I should be doing something.

Kaliya: I believe it’s important to stay in the moment. It can be a bit distracting if you are at hockey thinking about work, and vice versa. I am very big on schedules, so I like to plan out my day to a T. That definitely helps with allotting the right amount of time to each aspect of my life.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge women face in sports? In the workplace?

Kiira: I think the two are similar. In sports, it’s breaking stereotypes. I love nothing more than showing up to men’s pick-up hockey with my ponytail sticking out of my helmet and listening to the men grunt that a girl is there, and then making a move around them and scoring.

In the work place, it’s similar. Whether people in the workplace recognize it or not, women are, on average, underpaid and under-recognized. Some of this is rooted in the institutions themselves, while some of the responsibility lands on us, the women. Sports build confidence in women to believe in their worth, and to ask for it when it’s deserved.

Lisa: I think one of the biggest challenges women face, especially now in the NWHL, is balancing full time training with a full-time job. Most players will have separate jobs, so it’s finding that time to train and be at your best when you have another commitment that also needs your best. In the workplace, the only real challenge I have dealt with was when I was a building manager. I would have customers always second guessing if I could sharpen skates or drive the Zamboni. I felt like I always had to prove myself because I was a girl in that position.

Kaliya: I think our biggest challenge is getting our names and images out in the media in a positive light, and making sure our sport is being respected just as much as it is for the guys. Thankfully in my workplace, I am surrounded by a lot of hardworking woman so I haven’t found many challenges yet.

Where do you see the NWHL in five years, and how will women change the status quo?

Kiira: In five years, the NWHL will have grown to other cities and will have partners, endorsements and regular coverage! Media will play a huge role not only in the league’s success, but also in the success of shifting the public’s view of women’s sports.

Lisa: I definitely see the NWHL growing in five years. Already, the fan base has grown and it is only the beginning of the second year. As more and more girls graduate college, hopefully, there will be more teams and opportunities to play.

Kaliya: I see the NWHL growing its fan base and really being a league that focuses on its fans. As you can see now, there is a lot of player and fan interaction, which is great for growing the sport. I believe that it is going to continue to increase over the years and really help inspire younger generations.

What do you believe is the key to building a successful team, in the rink and the workplace?

Kiira: Trust and dedication. You have to believe in each other. You need a coach or a manager who believes in you, and collectively, you need to believe in your cause.

Lisa: Communication and the ability to help each other out are huge. It is frustrating to be on a team, or in the workplace, where there is no communication. If everyone is working together, things tend to work out for the better.

Kaliya: I think the biggest thing to building a successful team is communication. Communication is key to getting things done in an effective manner. It is also important to lighten things up and have fun. Everyone brings something great to the table, and their personality is one of the biggest things.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Kiira: Follow your heart. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on learning another language, experiencing another culture, and playing hockey long enough to be able to join this league. Thanks, Mom!

Lisa: The best advice I have ever received is to have fun and not get hung up on making mistakes. It is very hard to have a good day/training session if you are not enjoying the moment.

Kaliya: Live in the moment and take in as much as you can. You learn the best when you really just observe and listen.

What is one thing you wish everyone knew about being a professional athlete?

Kiira: The mental game is much more exhausting than the physical game.

Lisa: I have given lessons to kids and adults in the past, when there are skills they don’t pick up right away, they get frustrated. I try to explain how long it takes to be good at one thing. Being a professional athlete, we have been working from day one on simple skills and have put in a lot of time doing so. As good as we can be at certain things, we also have days where we struggle the most. We have worked extremely hard to be in the positions we are now. It is not something that can be done overnight.

Kaliya: While it is a lot of fun, and a great job, we put in a lot of time and effort. Everything we do is so we can get better at our sport, and be the best role models.

What was your experience like training and playing in the 2010 Olympics, Lisa?

Lisa: After six years I still have trouble answering this because there is so much that I could say. Training and then going on to play in the Olympics was a dream come true. I was 11 when the U.S. women won gold in 1998. From then on, that was my goal, to be in the Olympics someday. From walking in the opening ceremony to playing in the gold medal game, it was a special moment to be able to share with family and friends that were so supportive from day one. It was an experience like no other to be able to represent my country, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

Loved this article? Read part 1 of 4 in our Women of the NWHL Week series featuring Dani Rylan, 29-year-old founder and commissioner of the league. Then click on over to part 2 of 4 featuring director of communications Savanna Arral.

I love nothing more than showing up to men's pick-up hockey with my ponytail sticking out of my helmet and listening to the men grunt that a girl is there, and then making a move around them and scoring.