"I had a tough time watching him play last year, but I don't think injuries happen often enough to worry on an everyday basis. You can't go through life worrying about everything," Natalie Granato said. "You go driving down the street and you're not worried if a car is going to come out and hit you. . . . I don't let that get in the way or otherwise my kids wouldn't have been playing as long as they have."
Tony tried to protect Cammi when they were younger by picking her for his teams. He saw her talent--he says she still knows the game better than he does--but he thought she was headed for nothing but disappointment if she chose hockey as a career.
"I thought maybe I should tell her she shouldn't play hockey anymore," he said. "But that would have crushed her. I was afraid to tell her. I was kind of hoping she would fall in love with another sport and that would knock hockey down a notch [in her affections], but as soon as she'd get done with track or soccer, she'd go right back to hockey."
She was good enough at soccer to consider playing at the University of Wisconsin as a walk-on, and she had offers to play Division II basketball. She also played team handball at two Olympic Festivals and was invited to train with the national team, which seemed her best shot at being an Olympian.
Even she wondered if she had gone as far as she could in hockey.
"It was sad, but I had to get away from the game for a couple of years, my junior and senior years of high school," she said. "The next level of hockey was all hitting and I wasn't into that part of the game, so I had to focus on other sports. In the back of my mind, I wanted to go to college and play hockey, but it was tough because I wasn't recruited."
Almost accidentally, the Granatos learned that a few Eastern colleges offered women's hockey scholarships. Cammi was invited to a tournament in Massachusetts and impressed observers so much with her tenacity around the net and her ability to read the game that she got a scholarship to Providence College before the coach ever saw her play.
She led the Friars to two East Coast Athletic Conference championships and was named ECAC player of the year three times, all the while wondering what would come next. She wasn't ready to retire after she graduated in 1993, and the U.S. national team--which didn't hire a full-time coach until 1996--didn't play often enough for her to stay sharp. Nor was there a women's professional league to join.
"I knew at that point that women's hockey was accepted in the Olympics and I had to decide, 'Do I get out of college and go find a job, like everybody is supposed to do, or do I put all that on hold and make sacrifices so I can continue playing hockey?' " she said.
"I thought a lot about it. For my first semester I coached a junior boys' team in Madison [Wis.] but I knew deep inside I had so much hockey left to play."
To do that, she went to Concordia University in Montreal as a graduate student.
Although her savings dwindled because she couldn't work, she elevated her game, playing more often and against better competition.
"That was the best decision I could have made, for a lot of reasons," she said.
One is that she met her boyfriend there. She credits him with bringing balance to her life, but in truth, almost everything is secondary to preparing for Nagano.
"She has put off her life. I know she has," Natalie Granato said. "I even told her, 'If you want to get married and have a baby that's OK with me. I'd be glad to help you with the baby.' "
Granato, one of six children, anticipates having a large family someday. She will have many stories to tell her kids--perhaps even about winning the first women's gold medal in hockey. Canada has won all four women's World Championships, but the U.S. prevailed over Canada and Finland to win the Three Nations Cup in December. The teams' pre-Olympic series is tied, 6-6, with one game left tonight in Colorado Springs.
Yet, Granato knows there's more to be gained at Nagano than a medal. There are acceptance and respect to be won, and a chance to be a role model not only for young girls, but for anyone who was ever discouraged from pursuing a dream.
"There are so many great stories about sacrifices and everything that goes into being an Olympian, and that's what we're about too," Granato said.
"Hopefully, people will get that into their minds and take a positive attitude about women's hockey and get rid of the negative stereotypes, the people who said, 'You don't belong out there. What are you trying to do? It's a man's game.'
"Limitations that other people set are unfair, like we weren't allowed to succeed in certain areas.
"If I would have listened to all those people, I wouldn't be here."