Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler Interview

The Q And A With Miss Virginia: The Coolest Hockey Goalie You'll Ever Meet

3/12/09 in NHL   |   100%InjuryRate   |   1283 respect

We’re pleased to bring you our latest interview with Tara Wheeler, the current Miss Virginia. Tara competed in the Miss America Pageant in January where she was named a Quality of Life finalist, an honor given to the eight contestants who have done the most in their communities to improve the lives of others. And guess what? She’s also a former hockey goalie who played at Penn State. Tara’s combined her role as Miss Virginia with her passion for hockey to create unique shootouts for charity. She took the time out of her busy schedule to speak with us about how she became a hockey addict, how she’s breaking stereotypes, and what it’s like to face an NHL player in a shootout.

How did you become interested in hockey?

I grew up in a military family and when I was in the third grade my dad was stationed in Fort Devins, Massachusetts, which is a lot better place to start playing hockey than in Virginia. That’s around the same time that the Mighty Ducks movies came out and anyone who knows hockey knows the Mighty Ducks movies and the character Julie the Cat who was the girl goalie, and I saw the movies and came home and told my parents I was going to be a female goalie like Julie the Cat and they said all right.

What teams did you follow growing up?

I followed pretty much anybody who was on TV growing up since we moved around so much. I didn’t really have a specific team that I followed. I was the only one in my family that was interested in hockey so it’s not like my brother or my dad or someone had a team that I would root for. Since I moved to Virginia, of course I follow the Washington Capitals, since they’re the hometown team.

You’ve been playing hockey for a number of years, on a number of levels. At what point in your hockey career did you say to yourself “You know what, I’m pretty good at this.”

Growing up I played all with boys pretty much, and I knew that I could hang with the guys, and the people at my local rink in Virginia said you know the open tryouts for the women’s 2002 Olympic team are coming up and they’re up in Massachusetts, it’s the closest one, we really think you should go and it would be a great experience. And so I went there, and it was my first time playing competitively with other women and I felt like I held my own. So I knew then that college hockey was something I wanted to do.

Was there a particular goalie that you looked up to as you moved up through hockey?

I always looked up to Manon Rhéaume, she was the Canadian Olympic team goalie and she also played exhibition games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. She was the type of woman who was very strong but she was feminine too at the same time and I always thought that was a cool balance.

Do you think a woman goalie could ever play in the NHL in non-exhibition style games?

Oh absolutely, I’ve seen some girls who are just phenomenal and I’ve played ice hockey with girls who were some of the best on the men’s team. So I don’t see it as out of reach for a woman to some day be able to play in the NHL and be an incredible asset to a team.

How often do you still play?

I try to get on the ice as often as I can, especially since I’m doing all these charity shootouts and I don’t want to go out there and look like a fool in front of some professional hockey players. I have tried to play incognito before, and was recognized. I’m looking for a paint sponsor for my mask to maybe put the Miss Virginia crown and airbrush it on the hockey mask, then I’ll definitely be recognized every time I play pickup. But I think it would be funny for the charity shootouts.

How do you combine your hockey background with your pageant background?

One of my big goals this year was to break down the negative stereotypes that surround pageants and I thought a great way to do that would be to combine hockey and pageantry and I thought it would be a great way to raise money for charity. I’ve done 4 shootouts, 3 of them were charity to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network and the "Cheetas" hockey program for disabled children. One was with Virginia Tech, one was with the Norfolk Admirals, and one was with high school All-Stars and they were both incredibly successful and I’d love to continue doing that for the next few years, however much longer I can play hockey. But I think it was just a cool way to get a new group of people excited about pageants and seeing us in a different light and get them excited about charities like the Children’s Miracle Network and Cheetas too, and it raised money for two great causes. I've also partnered with the St. Baldrick's Foundation to raise money for pediatric cancer research. My goal is to raise $500,000 by April 11th and if I do, I'll shave my head.

When you go against guys in the charity shootouts, what kind of reaction do you usually get from them?

Well it’s funny because I was originally really intimidated. It was my idea, and I get there and I’m a little bit scared, and these are pro athletes, and am I going to look stupid. But the guys have been more nervous than I have been. And I guess when I think about it I put them in kind of a weird position because they talked to me about it and said, we don’t want to be the jerk who hurts Miss Virginia, and we don’t try to score on her because that’s less money for charity (money is donated per shot blocked), and if they try really hard to score a goal on me and I block it, then they’re going to get made fun of. So I’ve put them in kind of a weird position, and I never really thought about it that way. I apologize guys, but it’s for a good cause.

You did a shootout with the Washington Capitals, right?

I did. Sean Collins and Dave Steckel shot on me, and they used to play for Ohio State, so we had a big-10 rivalry thing going on. They won, but they also play in the NHL, so it’s ok.

What it is like facing an NHL player as a goalie?

It was intimidating even though they didn’t go full-out on me. I was trying to get myself all pumped up about it, but it’s something that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life and I can tell my kids Mom was on the ice and faced shots from NHL players.

Who’s better: Crosby or Ovechkin?

Ovechkin, hands down. And I’ve met him too, he’s a cool guy.

Last question, do you still have all your original teeth?

Hahaha, I do. I have a nice mouthguard and a phenomenal helmet that keeps me protected.

Below are some extra pictures of Tara in action on the ice and at the Miss America pageant. Click on the image to blow them up

*Special note: The Miss America Program is the largest provider of scholarships to women in the world.
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