Fire & Ice
Sarah Edwards and Ryan Haggerty are both high-achieving athletes who crave speed, but in several ways they are opposites. Sarah approaches life and her sport with animated joy, relying on rocket fuel and enthusiastic grit to propel her dragster across an asphalt track. Ryan is quiet and focused, and speeds across the ice, powered by his own muscle, determination and super-sized talent.
Yet these two up-and-comers have plenty in common too, starting with the days they simultaneously walked the halls at Trinity Catholic High School. While Ryan’s tenure at TCHS was relatively brief, Sarah remembers him as the “shy guy who everyone knew was an amazing hockey player.”
Now they both sit on the precipice of greatness. After a promising 2013, Sarah is looking to advance her standings on the NHRA drag racing circuit. Ryan signed a multiyear contract with the NHL’s New York Rangers; the first hockey player from Stamford to ever make that claim. Here they tell us how childhood dreams have transformed into grown-up realities
Sarah Edwards sees nothing wrong with getting her nails done and then digging her hands in grease. The unfortunate timing of a fresh, glossy manicure ruined by a day spent “playing” in the engine of her glittering candy apple red dragster, Queen Bee, is just the beginning of the intriguing contrasts that define this up-and-coming amateur on the National Hot Rod Association drag-racing circuit.
A quintessential “girly girl” who enjoys attending racing-circuit award dinners wearing six-inch stilettos (“I’m short and like a nice heel”), and changing her hair color frequently (“just for fun”), Sarah spends most summer weekends strapped into the open-air cockpit of a 1,000 horsepower, alcohol-fueled dragster that has taken her—so far—to 178 miles per hour in 7.5 seconds.
The aspiring interior designer blasted across the track that fast in a heat at the Atco Dragway in New Jersey last summer, a personal best and her first win on the NHRA circuit. Winning that round was an exhilarating “jump-up-and-down” moment for Sarah, who began begging—“and I mean begging”—for her own racer when she was still a student at Dolan Middle School. “Sitting still makes me absolutely, completely, totally crazy,” she says. “I’ve always been a little hyper. I think I was meant to go that fast.”
Sarah was also raised around racetracks. Her dad, Scott, once raced dump trucks for fun, and mom, Lisa, embraced the day-at-the-drag-race dates that were part of their courtship. Sarah, their only child, started joining them at the track for family outings as a tween. An early idol was the Queen of Diamonds dragster driven by Hanna Motorsports’ Jessie Harris. “I thought, ‘She’s so cool. I want to do that too.’
“And a day at the track is just good clean fun,” explains Sarah, whose fresh-faced good looks and engaging effervescence make her a natural ambassador for the sport. “You would think it’s a man’s sport, but it’s a family sport. The track, on weekends, is full of families, and the drivers are so generous. They love to show off their cars to kids around the pit.”
Sarah bought her dragster with her own savings, but only when her parents gave the green light. Yes, drag racing can be dangerous, but Sarah points out driving her workaday Jeep Cherokee in regular traffic can be scary too. “A bigger concern for me was the distraction,” says her mom. “I wanted her to finish [Trinity Catholic] before being consumed by this, but this is her dream and we’re totally behind her.”
Now Queen Bee Racing is a family affair. Scott, an appliance serviceman, chiefs the Queen Bee pit crew, which includes Sarah’s boyfriend Steve Frycz, an engineer. Even Sarah’s dragster’s name alludes to her affectionate childhood nickname “Sarah Bee.”
As for the Queen part, Sarah wanted something dramatic and catchy, but she was certainly also alluding to her rare female driver status on the NHRA circuit. “I’m certainly not the only female racing out there. At my home track there are a handful of us—maybe between three and seven—out of a hundred regular racers,” she says. Yet she’s never felt anything but “supported, embraced and encouraged” by her male counterparts. “There’s no question it’s a novelty, but it’s not a distraction. If anything, people have gone out of their way to help me.”
Sarah is bothered, though, by comparisons between her drag racing to anything related to NASCAR. “People compare me to Danica Patrick all the time and that sets me flying off the handlebars,” she says. “I don’t like NASCAR. The last thing in the world I would want to do is drive around in a circle for hours. It just seems so boring.”
Sarah much prefers being propelled straight across an asphalt track at speeds that require her dragster (maximum potential speed 190 MPH) to be slowed by parachute. “I love everything about it, the shape of my car, the noise, the speed, the open-air cockpit. It’s not claustrophobic. It’s not scary. It’s exhilarating.”
Scott Edwards notes that since getting her racing license after graduating from Trinity in 2010, his petite daughter has shown a natural affinity for the physical demands of the sport, which can be challenging under the best conditions. (Even slipping into the sleek cockpit, which we tried, requires incredible agility.) In July the track can get so hot—try 140 degrees hot—that Sarah’s elaborate flame-retardant jumpsuit and clipped-on helmet can become stifling as she waits for race times. She needs to be well hydrated, rested and ultra focused. The slightest glitch in her car can make it shake violently as it jettisons toward the finish line. The engine noise is deafening even when everything’s in perfect order. It’s worse when things are not. “Just the amount of concentration it requires to drive the car under good conditions is incredibly taxing physically and mentally,” Scott says. “If things don’t go well, it’s that much harder.”
Those challenges don’t seem to slow Sarah down. “Last year, I was still just learning the ropes,” she says. “I’m excited about this summer. I think it’s going to be a big one for me.” Her goal is to make it to drag racing’s elite levels and turn pro. But more immediate plans include securing a sponsor for her dragster, critical support that can help keep Queen Bee racing strong. “If all goes well,” Sarah grins, “there will be no stopping me.”
From the time he was about eight, and spending entire afternoons taking shots at the net in his North Stamford driveway, Ryan had one dream—to join The New York Rangers.
It was his team, and his dad Roger’s team. And they were the team he imagined playing for during those lone afternoons of practice, when his mom Kathy would have to insist he come inside to do homework. “And I would try to avoid her and keep playing because I didn’t like school,” Ryan says, giving an eye roll probably similar to the one he gave mom at eight.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Ryan was a good baseball player too—he even played while at Trinity Catholic—“but eventually I just didn’t have the time or passion for it.” Hockey was where he excelled, his first priority. He was always the kid on the “A” team, always playing up a year with older boys because he just outskated and outplayed kids his own age. Even though his family’s in the swimming pool business, his dad built Ryan a backyard rink instead.
Of course, he and his dad took in lots of Rangers games at Madison Square Garden, and sometimes would get New York Islanders or New Jersey Devils tickets, especially when a player they admired, say a Sidney Crosby, was visiting home ice. “But my first team was always the Rangers,” Ryan says. “And I knew if I ever got to pick any team in the NHL, it would be the Rangers. When it came time to make that decision, there was never a doubt.”
So here he is, an imposing six feet, 200 pounds of muscle, talking about what it’s like to actually be a true-blue New York Ranger. “Actually, I don’t even know how to put it in the exact right terms because it’s more than a dream. It’s almost surreal.”
It’s also a bit complicated. Ryan abruptly ended his junior year at Division One Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and signed his two-year Rangers contract in March—eight days after turning twenty-one—as part of an unusual free agent deal that followed the regular NHL draft. Ryan’s new employers were bound by league rules that prohibited sending him to the minor league AHL for the season. So he traveled and practiced with the team, but could not participate (again, NHL rules) in playoff or Stanley Cup games.
His abbreviated dream season done, he headed back to Stamford to get ready for what he hopes—make that really hopes—will be the next time his blades touch Rangers ice.
If it was a heady experience just to fly to Winnipeg for a series of away games with his sports heroes (c’mon, it had to be, right?), Ryan plays it cool. “What impressed me was the professional player, how they eat, how they travel, their focus. This is their job and every day is about playing your best hockey. I loved the idea that this was my job too. It just felt right.”
Ryan’s been almost singularly focused on getting ready for this shot at the big leagues. At about sixteen, while still at Trinity Catholic, he sought out Ben Prentiss of Darien-based Prentiss Hockey Performance, a trainer (and Westhill grad) with a winning record conditioning some of hockey’s current greats: the Rangers’ Martin St. Louis and 2014 Olympians Jonathan Quick, Max Pacioretty and James van Riemsdyk, among others. Ryan credits his now close friend Prentiss with “taking a pretty scrawny kid and adding a lot of muscle.” For Ryan, the transformation was a game changer.
That stronger, faster athlete said goodbye to Trinity after his sophomore year and headed to Michigan to play for the U.S. National Development Team, the elite training program that rosters the nation’s best junior hockey players. He lived with a hockey-loving host family and attended a local public high school, and has been scouted for his NHL potential ever since. His prospects became even more obvious at RPI, where as the team’s 2013-2014 MVP forward, he was the NCAA’s third leading goal scorer and one of ten finalists for college hockey’s prestigious Hobey Baker Award.
Known for his quick release, Ryan attributes his exceptional ability to surprise his opponents’ goalies to his intense training regimen with Prentiss and perhaps, he allows, overcoming a personal obstacle that gives him an unusual edge. Diagnosed with severe dyslexia while at Northeast Elementary, Ryan spent his middle school years at Stamford’s Villa Maria Education Center. He gives high marks to its principal, Sister Carol Ann, and her team for helping him master adaptive learning strategies that helped him succeed in school and beyond.
“I see things differently than other people. And because of my dyslexia, I have always learned how to adapt. In hockey, the faster you adapt, the faster you can change your way of playing and surprise your opponent. And the more you surprise them, the more you’re going to score.”
Having already proven he’s a scoring machine, Ryan’s next goal is to repeat that success wearing Rangers’ blue. That means a summer of tough training. Yes, it’s possible that next season he could be sent to play with the Rangers minor league AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, but Ryan seems focused and optimistic about what’s next. “There’s a chance I can still be on that team. And it’s up to me to be ready to step into that role if I have the chance.”