Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — The chipmunk costume was the final straw.
A mother's desire for her daughter to become a figure skater led to a young Lisa Chesson in tears at each competition. She so hated to dress up as a rodent that it led to the end of her figure-skating career and the start of one in hockey. That change has led her all the way to Thursday's gold-medal game against favored Canada.
"My mom wanted me to be a figure skater because she was when she was younger," said Chesson, a defenseman on the U.S. women's team. "I went to the rink every day in my brother's hockey sweats and cried at all the competitions. The last one, I was a chipmunk. I just didn't want to wear the outfit, so finally they let me play hockey."
Out of those tears was born one of the U.S.' most solid defensemen. Chesson has two goals and three assists and is second on the team with a plus-12 rating through four games of the Olympic tournament.
"To represent the country is awesome," Chesson said. "To get together with girls from all across the nation and to figure out what they're all about . . . is a very fun experience."
Chesson began playing hockey as a 5-year-old and mostly was on boys' teams because of the lack of girls' hockey programs in Illinois.
Eventually, she joined her brother, Phillip, on the Plainfield Central High School team when she was a freshman and he was a senior.
"I found myself playing with the high school for two years," Lisa Chesson said. "I thought it would be fun to join that team to see if I could play with my brother for a year.
"They were a lot bigger than me," said Chesson, now 5 feet 7 and 146 pounds. "I was the only girl . . . and sometimes the other team would go after me after whistles, but my team was good about protecting me and taking care of me."
Those hard knocks helped Chesson develop her game and eventually led to a scholarship to Ohio State, where she played on the women's team for four years. She has a year of school left and plans to finish her degree after the Olympics.
"You have to work to keep up and try to get a little stronger and figure out a way," Chesson said of playing against boys. "It kind of turned over to the women's game because on the college level and national level they're a lot quicker and stronger as well."
Chesson spent the 2008-09 season in the U.S.' residency program in Blaine, Minn., and was a member of the 2009 world championship team.
"Of all the players that went through the resident program a year ago, she probably is the one that benefited the most from practicing with an elite group of players," U.S. Coach Mark Johnson said. "Her growth at the World Championships in Finland last year helped her develop into becoming a real good defenseman and an opportunity to play on this team."
Chesson, 23, attended a lot of Chicago Blackhawks games as a kid because her parents, Mary Ann and Jeff, were season-ticket holders. But on Thursday, Chesson will be on the ice drawing the crowd's attention.
"You always think about it, but you never think it's going to happen," she said. "It's just awesome that everything has fallen into place."