Dishing Out Assists in a New Way
The following article featuring former Yale student-athlete
Lauren Monahan (Schlesinger) 94’ was written by Casey Hart
special to ECAC Hockey.
Before graduating from Yale in 1994, Lauren Monahan (then Lauren Schlesinger) handed out 31 assists for the Bulldogs women’s hockey team, enough, along with her 36 goals, to rank among Yale’s top 25 all-time scorers.
A few of those helpers undoubtedly went to Deborah Blanchard. Nearly two decades later, the former linemates and their classmates Cathy Jones and Sage McLeod are all still friends. And Monahan is still dishing out assists.
Monahan, who led Yale in scoring in three of her four seasons, has gone from hockey star to hockey mom and, as Blanchard puts it, “stroller mogul.” The Monahans, Lauren and husband Bob, founded UPPAbaby in 2006 with an eye on bridging the gap between expensive, imported strollers and cheaper alternatives that simply weren’t getting the job done.
“She’s a problem-solver, so coming up with a better stroller makes sense,” said Blanchard, now a mother and UPPAbaby customer herself, of her former linemate. “And I’m happy to reap the benefits.”
Blanchard’s not the only one. Parents across the country and internationally can credit the Monahan family with assisting their lives with kids.
“When they were first starting out, I’d call or text Lauren when I saw one of her strollers,” said Blanchard, a New Yorker. “Now the whole city is crawling with them.”
UPPAbaby has achieved success by creating strollers that provide practicality and quality without sacrificing style or affordability. The company creates lightweight, easy-to-use products from high-quality materials. The product line includes four varieties of strollers, a host of accessories and, coming in March, car seats. The inspiration came from the Monahans’ own experiences as new parents.
“We saw a big gap in the marketplace at the time,” Lauren Monahan said. “We felt that the needs of parents like us weren’t being met.”
Conveniently, the Monahans had the expertise to meet those needs themselves. They had met as employees of Canton, Mass.-based Reebok, where Bob worked in product development and Lauren in marketing and licensing. Lauren had previously managed events such as the Women’s World Cup soccer games in Foxboro, Mass., and the NHL All-Star Weekend Festival in Vancouver. Bob had gone on to leadership roles in the juvenile product industry. They knew how to design juvenile products and the processes to get their creations to market and get the word out.
At first, Lauren Monahan intended to be a silent partner in UPPAbaby while concentrating her energies on raising her own hockey players, who have since grown to ages 6, 8 and 10. The company ended up needing her skills in sales, marketing and legal matters.
“I kind of fell into it, because it was all hands on deck,” she said. “It was a full start-up, so we needed me to just jump in.”
It was worth the leap. UPPAbaby, based in Hingham, Mass., has grown and grown. Celebrity sightings with the company’s strollers are common, foreign publications have taken notice, and bloggers are drooling over the impending release of the new car seat.
Lauren Monahan credits much of the company’s success to the values she practiced as a Yale student-athlete. Husband Bob also takes lessons from the ice. He grew up in British Columbia before moving to Maine and attending the hockey-loving University of Maine. He played on the club team there and still enjoys a good pickup game. Both remain involved the game by coaching and, in Lauren’s case, serving as co-president of the Yale Hockey Association.
“Playing hockey was definitely a big part of my education,” she said. “I absolutely think back to team dynamics in the way we run our business.”
She stresses the importance of each team member at UPPAbaby playing his or her role, being unselfish and showing leadership. The company also encourages employees to be physically active, encouraging a boot-camp workout at lunchtime as well as corporate-challenge runs and fundraiser runs.
“When people join our team, we tell them, ‘We appreciate your skill set and demand that you appreciate others’ skill sets,’” Lauren noted. “Everyone puts forth their best effort, and it makes a difference.”
“Athletes walk away with this different perspective,” she said of the college experience. “That specialized focus adds to your experience, and being on a team prepares you even more, especially for the business world.”
Monahan and her three 1994 Yale women’s hockey classmates illustrate this point beautifully. Each member of the foursome has gone on to great success, all in vastly disparate fields. Blanchard moved on to a career as a maritime lawyer, practicing international public-interest law by providing legal aid services to merchant mariners. McLeod, a goaltender for the Bulldogs, became a nurse midwife. Jones went from the blue line at Ingalls Rink to the kitchens of the Culinary Institute of America and has since worked as the research chief at Gourmet magazine, a restaurant critic for the New York Times and Financial Times and executive chef for the Yale Sustainable Food Project.
They have watched one another other thrive from up close.
“The four of us were all very different, personality-wise, but just bonded in the hockey context, and that has kept us together as friends,” explained Blanchard.
As they have kept in touch, Monahan has helped them stay close to Yale hockey. She oversees outreach to Bulldogs women’s hockey alumnae and, as a member of the YHA board, contributes to decisions about all the association’s outreach and fundraisers.
“Lauren is a fantastic champion of Yale women’s ice hockey,” Blanchard said, noting Monahan’s communication with other former players and efforts to organize alumnae weekends. “She has helped me remember how great that experience was.”
It was a natural fit for Monahan, who previously served as an alumni interviewer and is an active voice for athletics in the university community.
“My experience at Yale was so positive academically and athletically, so I’ve always stayed connected to Yale,” she explained. “I think athletics has a very positive role for everyone at the university. It creates a sense of community and camaraderie.”
The outreach and fundraising has paid off. Members of the YHA made possible the multimillion-dollar renovation of Ingalls Rink that was completed in 2010. The project modernized the 60-year-old “Yale Whale” with new seating, locker rooms and strength-training space while maintaining the throwback feel and intimate atmosphere that is the trademark of Ingalls and other ECAC Hockey venues.
“It’s very hard to go down there and not be really jealous,” Monahan said. “The renovations are phenomenal, and they did a great job of remembering the feeling of the Whale.”
The rink may sparkle a little more nowadays, but for Monahan, it’s the memories of her time as a student-athlete that really shine.
“It was such a positive experience; there was a very strong sense of camaraderie that never goes away,” she said. “It was incredible.”