If you were watching the Olympic Pairs Figure Skating competition in Beijing last winter, you may have caught a glimpse of Peggy Graham Phillips ’80. No, she was not out on the ice, even though her Colorado Academy classmates may remember her as a competitive skater who split her time and energy between two places—CA and CIA, the Colorado Ice Arena.
Phillips was sitting in what is known as the “best seat in the house” at the competition. One of only three American figure skating judges at the 2022 Winter Olympics, she belongs to what she calls “a very small club.” For an official, it is no less an honor to judge the Olympics than it is for the athletes to compete.
But Beijing during a pandemic was not how Phillips had imagined her Olympic moment. There were the weeks of isolation prior to leaving, the tortuous journey to Beijing (remember, there were no commercial flights at that time), and the confinement when she reached the Olympic Village. Still, the experience was a well-earned achievement.
“In the end, I got to judge one of the great Olympic skating events of all time,” she says. “It was an incredible honor and privilege.”
Skating may have brought Phillips to Colorado and CA, but she credits CA with opening her eyes to a variety of opportunities in the world. She is an experienced attorney, a mother of three daughters, all of whom attended CA, an active volunteer who has served on CA’s Board of Trustees, the Alumni Board, and as Chair of the Horizons at CA Board—all while pursuing her passion for figure skating.
‘Skating is in my blood’
Born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., Phillips moved to Colorado during the middle of Eighth Grade, when her skating family decided to follow the legendary coach Carlo Fassi to Denver. Fassi had coached the 1968 Olympic champion, Peggy Fleming, and the 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist, Dorothy Hamill, who also attended CA.
Skating was the Graham family business. Phillips’ father and aunt competed at the world level as pairs skaters. Her mother competed at the national level, and her sister, Dana Graham ’82, competed at the international level. Phillips remembers being on skates before she turned age two.
“Skating is in my blood,” she says. “It was what we did, and it was fun because you could go to shows and competitions.”
CA was an attractive option because the school offered a schedule that would accommodate extracurricular demands on a competitive skater. But it was also important to Phillips to be a good student.
“CA had a reputation as a good college prep school, and I cared about my education,” Phillips says. “I knew that skating would not be my life’s work.”
In fact, by her Sophomore year at CA, Phillips had left competitive skating at the Senior level and thrown herself into all the varied opportunities in arts, athletics, and academics that CA offered. She played Field Hockey, worked on the yearbook, performed on stage, and sang in the choir. She credits CA with teaching her how to be a strong writer.
“When I got to Smith [College], I discovered not every student had as much experience as I had writing,” she says. “And writing was incredibly important in law school, so that was something that I have carried with me from CA.”
After graduating from law school at Boston University, Phillips served as a litigator for an international law firm and as an in-house attorney at AT&T. She also followed in her parents’ footsteps again, beginning what she calls the “long, arduous” journey to become an international skating judge.
Phillips started as a figure skating judge in high school and became more serious about it after finishing law school and returning to Colorado. Her commitment to the skating community has been a “lifelong passion.”
“In the skating world, I work with people who have known me my entire life,” she says. “People stay connected because it is one big family.”
It took decades for Phillips to gradually climb the ladder of judging, beginning by shadowing more experienced judges and then, with more experience, rising through the ranks to become a national judge and, in 2016, successfully passing the test to be named an International Skating Union (ISU) Judge. As an ISU judge, she can “judge anything,” she says, including World Championship events and the Olympics.
Phillips has also volunteered on committees for U.S. Figure Skating since high school, and she has traveled internationally to judge for 20 years.
“I always have had skating,” she says. “It was separate from law and the children, something just for me, and I could dial it up or back, depending on how busy I was.”
‘A school I care about’
Phillips is modest, but very few people who have achieved the level of officiating experience that she has are even considered for judging the Olympics. In 2022, that honor came, with strings attached because of the pandemic. She spent three weeks in isolation before departing for China to avoid testing positive for COVID-19. She was tested frequently during that time and flew to New York City for 48 hours to complete final testing before she could board a plane for China.
With commercial flights shut down, she had to fly on a charter—through Zurich on the way to Beijing and through Istanbul on the way home—as she describes it, “the wrong way around the globe!”
When she arrived in Beijing, there were more daily tests, and for most of the time she was not allowed outside the “closed loop” of her hotel and the skating rink. She did get to watch the opening ceremonies and some short track and speed skating events, but otherwise, her movements were restricted, and much of her time was spent in facilities behind high fences.
She also had to be careful about how and what she communicated. The U.S. Olympic Committee warned her not to use any personal electronic devices and gave her a “burner phone” to use. Still, Phillips remains diplomatic about the entire experience. “It sure was interesting,” she says simply. None of the unusual nature of the 2022 Winter Olympics takes anything away from the pride she has in her work.
“It’s something I am an expert at,” she says. “I know it deeply, and I do it well.”
In so many ways, Phillips’ commitment to all aspects of her life—her career, her family, her volunteer work on behalf of CA, “a school I care about,” and figure skating—embodies the CA spirit of lifelong learning.
“CA fostered in me a desire to be informed, curious, engaged, and involved in the world,” she says. “Every piece of my life has followed that foundation.”