Michigan native Madison Packer is known as one of the most tenacious forwards in the NWHL. The New York Riveters winger has no fear when it comes to being physical and attacking the play. But where did she get her drive? Madison will tell you she got it from her training partner, best friend and “beast of a mother,” Momma Pack.
Laura Packer, 44, is an Ironman athlete who has become a top 5% finisher for her age group. Before her first competition in 2012, Laura was just a causal long-distance runner. She had no experience with the grueling swimming or cycling required to be a skilled triathlete. But she wanted a challenge and soon fell in love with the discipline required to compete in the sport—from going to the gym twice a day, to swimming in the pool, to watching her diet and planning recovery days.
“I loved that I was working towards a huge goal, one that I wasn’t 100% sure that I was going to finish,” said Laura.
As a kid, Madison was also a little ball of competitive fire, Laura said. The second oldest out of four kids, Madison was one of the more animated of the bunch and even treated chores like a race.
“This is going to sound really silly,” said Laura. “I would feel bad when she was sick, but I was glad because at least she would let me cuddle with her.”
The Packer family is a hockey family through and through. Laura’s husband was a hockey coach, and Laura had always wanted to pass the puck around as a kid despite her mother’s unease. “Girls don’t play hockey,” her mother would say, but still, Laura wanted her kids on the ice. So as soon as she got the chance, Laura decided to join an adult women’s league.
“I don’t know if she played growing up, but she’s not very good,” said Madison. “We would go watch her games and she would get so excited afterwards. There wasn’t any way to tell her that she was kind of really bad.”
Laura and Madison will have to sort that one out on their own, but Laura won’t deny that Madison showed promise from a young age. Madison would do anything to get better, even if she had to play with the boys.
They both recalled a bus ride when Madison was in 8th grade. The two of them were traveling with the boys hockey team to a tournament ten hours from her hometown. The boys sat in the back playing cards while Madison sat in the front by herself; it was no longer cool to hang out with girls. Laura was one of the only moms on the trip. She didn’t want her daughter to sit alone.
“You know, you don’t have to do this,” said Laura.
“I just want to play hockey,” Madison replied.
Since then, Laura decided that she would do everything she could to help Madison reach her goals. In high school, Momma Pack and Madi Pack would go to the gym together for circuit training. When Madison was struggling, Laura would whip discipline right into her. During her senior year of high school, Madison blew out her knee and needed major reconstruction surgery. Laura drove her to therapy every day and made sure she did every exercise she could.
“She took away my crutches,” Madison said. “She threw away my pain meds.”
Her mother only turned into a “demon” because she cared, Madison said. Laura never liked seeing her kids get hurt, but she realized that when Madison plays as hard as she does, injuries were just a part of the game.
“My mom just has an athlete mentality and she gets it,” said Madison. “That made everything so much easier for me.” With her mother’s help Madison miraculously returned to the ice two months later, ready to go.
Madison went on to play at the University of Wisconsin where she made the All-Academic Team by her senior season. But after four years, it was all over. In 2014, Madison graduated and had to say goodbye to the sport she loved and somehow find another outlet.
The solution? The mother and daughter pair began training for an Ironman together and they did not lack for competitive desire. Laura was afraid Madison wasn’t in shape to finish the race and Madison would push back. Bike rides would end in fits (“I hate you! I quit!”). Some days Madison would turn right back around.
“We would just lose it on each other,” said Madison. “We’re so alike that the things I can’t stand about my mom are the things she can’t stand about me.”
Come competition time, both completed the Ironman successfully, Laura a few miles ahead of her daughter. If anything, Madison discovered that she didn’t inherit her mother’s running ability, and everyday she is inspired by her mother’s determination.
“But the reality is,” said Laura. “I’m the one who is inspired by my kids and their hard work and dedication. I was so excited for Madison to do the Ironman.”
Last August, Madison got the opportunity to return to her first love and play in the NWHL. It was her chance to be a part of the hockey community once again, and the Packers were excited for their daughter realize her dream.
But it’s been hard for Momma Pack and Madi Pack to live away from each other. Laura missed boating together at their lake house. Madison couldn’t geek out about The Hunger Games with her mother like she used to. It’s a good thing they are only a Facetime away.
Like the day Madison Facetimed her mom to show off her new Miley Cyrus hairdo:
“Do you like the haircut?” Madison flaunted her bright blond pixie cut.
“No,” said Laura.
“Well that’s not very nice!”
Laura was just being honest. Maybe it just looked strange on the iPhone.
“At first I didn’t like it but it’s completely her personality,” Laura said. “She’s always pushing the edge of everything.”
And with that shock of hair and relentless gumption, Madison is a standout who inspires young fans in the crowd to be different and play with passion—just like her mother taught her.