STAMFORD, Conn. - Sarah Hughes has been an Olympic gold medalist now for about as many years as she is old enough to remember not being one.
Yet she seems to have lost little, if any, of her popularity as one of Long Island's most accomplished athletes of the millennium.
The feeling is mutual, she said Wednesday as she prepared for her daily online show on NBCOlympics.com about figure skating, "Olympic Ice."
"I have so much love for Long Island," said Hughes, 28, a Great Neck native who now lives in Manhattan. "Everything that I've done in my life is because of the community. I mean, I learned to skate there. I still go back there all the time.
"I feel really grateful and thankful to have a good rapport with people, because life is about enjoyment and if you can't share highs and lows of what you're doing with somebody else then it doesn't mean anything.
"Like my Olympic win [in 2002], just to be able to share it with Long Island. If you skated on Long Island in the last 20 years, I probably skated with you at some point."
These days Hughes spends much of her time working in real estate development in general and on the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in particular. The project, of which Mark Messier is CEO, will bring the world's largest indoor ice rink complex to the Bronx.
Hughes views the facility as an extension of her skating legacy.
"We're going to be creating an elite training base there as well as for recreation and learning to skate," she said. "My sister [Emily] and I both went to the Olympics in figure skating, but the New York area is not really known as a training mecca for Olympic figure skaters."
"It's hard to get ice time," Hughes added. "It's hard to get consistent ice time. There are rinks, but you spend all your time traveling between rinks."
She said the Kingsbridge undertaking has been an education.
"I'm at the intersection of people who have been extremely successful in their fields in finance, in legal issues, city planning, politics, government relations, construction, real estate development, hedge funds," she said.
"It's always something new, always something different. Plus, I get to work with Mark Messier all the time."