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Cammi's old dream comes true

NAGANO, Japan - Natalie Granato stood in the hallway of the 13th floor penthouse of the Metropolitan Hotel, waiting for her Olympic hero to arrive. "This night was so special," she said. "It's everything Cammi ever dreamed of." Daughter Cammi Granato is an Olympic gold medal winner, the captain of the women's hockey team that defeated Canada 3-1 in the final game Tuesday at Big Hat arena in Nagano - the first time women's hockey has been played in the Games. "I'm so happy for her," Natalie said. "It's been a long, hard road to get here." Natalie Granato remembers all the bumps in the road along the way back in Downer's Grove, Ill. She remembers when Cammi was a freak, a young girl playing a boys-only game. "She had to change in the girls' bathroom while her teammates dressed in the locker room," Natalie said. "There would be comments and snickers from mothers and other little girls who were figure skaters." But it got far worse than being a social outcast. There was physical pain as well. "When she got to be 12 or 13, it was tough because the players on opposing teams would single her out and hurt her physically," Natalie said. "She had quite a few serious injuries, like concussions, a sprained shoulder, different things." Cammi wouldn't quit, though. She had dreams. Big dreams. She and her four brothers were hockey fanatics. So they watched as the American team upset the Russians in the Miracle of Lake Placid in the 1980 Winter Games. They watched the movie made about the historic Olympics moment. And they replayed the moment as much as they could, hundreds of times, even recreating Al Michaels' famous line, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" "They would take tape and line out a hockey rink in the basement," Natalie said. "Then they would take tissue paper and tape it up for a puck, and use hockey sticks." Cammi played the role of Mike Eruzione, the team captain who accepted the gold medal and called all of his teammates up to the podium with him. And she thought, why not me? A foolish dream at the time, but Cammi's vision of the world had no limits. When she was 13, she told her mother she wanted to play for the Chicago Blackhawks. Even her mother found that ridiculous. "It broke her heart," Natalie said. "She told me she wanted to play for the Blackhawks, I probably laughed, not knowing how much she cared, and I said, `Honey, it's not going to work because girls don't play in the NHL.' " Girls didn't play NHL hockey. Girls didn't play Olympic hockey, either. This one would. "For so many years, people told you that you weren't supposed to be on the ice," Cammi said after the medal ceremony. "Why are you doing this? You're not going to go anywhere with this. And now I have this gold medal around my neck, and it feels pretty good." "Growing up, you're so unique," Cammi said. "You're the only girl playing the sport. All my brothers played it, and they were able to go on and be successful and have this respect because they were elite athletes. Yet I was looked down upon because I was good at hockey, and it was somehow wrong for me to be good at hockey." No more. Everything was right about what happened Tuesday in Nagano, and her family shared in it. As soon as Cammi came off the ice after the game, her brother Tony, who was on the 1988 men's Olympic team, was waiting to talk on a cell phone. He was back in California, where he plays for the San Jose Sharks. "It was nice to hear his voice and share that moment with him, because I know he wished he could have been here," Cammi said. "He watched it live, and that was good. I said, `We did it - we finally did it,' and he said, `I'm so proud of you.' And he told me he loved me." Cammi saw her family in the stands and yelled to them after the game. Later, at the Metropolitan Hotel, would come an emotional reunion. As the team entered, the place erupted with cheers and applause. Cammi came in and hugged Natalie, with tears in their eyes. Her father, Don, said, "Hello Goldie. Good job." She hugged two brothers, Joey and Robby, and then embraced sister Christina, who had left Cammi a special note in her locker before the game. "It said, `Go for the gold,' and, `Sisters are golden,' and she put a picture of me and her," Cammi said. "It was really cute." Natalie held Cammi's medal, still trying to keep her eyes dry. Then someone handed Cammi another cell phone to talk to her brother, Donny. "Don, I did it!," Cammi yelled into the phone. "Can you believe it?" It's not Al Michaels, but it's every bit as miraculous.

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