Student Athlete Leadership Academy Keynote Speech

“Hey Kat, it’s Lucas. I wanted to let you know that I was speaking with someone today and realized you’d be perfect to give a keynote speech. I was wondering if it was okay if I put you in touch with the chair of the conference?”

I was not expecting that voicemail.

For the last few years Lucas has been a presenter at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Student Athlete Leadership Academy; last year I helped him prepare a seminar on stress management. The Academy is a one day conference for student athletes in Western Pennsylvania and is designed to develop their leadership on their sports teams, in their schools and in their communities. They are mentored for the day by current college athletes. The program has always sounded amazing and I’m so excited that Lucas thinks I can be a part of it. He is an incredible athlete and has an incredible network of world-class athletes and I am so honored that he has enough respect for what I do that he is willing to suggest me as a speaker.

I got in touch with Dr. Aimee Kimball, a sports psychologist at UPMC and SALA’s coordinator. She said she found my bio online, though I’d be great and asked if I was comfortable speaking in front of 300 people. She tells me she’s been looking for a woman to be the keynote speaker for the 10 years that The Academy has been going on and suddenly I’m on the bill.

As I begin to think about and write my speech I freak out. What do I have to share with our young people? What lessons are important? How do I keep 300 17-year-olds engaged at 9 am on a Friday in the summer?

Thankfully, Ray gives me a call and a pep talk. Share how you did what you did. Show pictures. Be excited. Inspire.

The morning of the talk my PowerPoint breaks. I do my presentation without my notes or my cues. I stand in front of hundreds of people from as far as 2.5 hours away and I honestly tell them that I am so excited for the opportunity to share with them. I tell them how I’m an unexpected athlete- how I only started running 3 years before I ended up guiding 4 young adults through the Amazon jungle. I talk about how I sought out opportunities and how hard work paid off when I wasn’t expecting anything in return. I talk to them about the importance of the people around you- sponsors, friends, families and other teammates. I share my adventures where I outran a penguin and slept in the jungle with jaguars.

I shared what I did. I showed pictures. I was so excited. And I hope I inspired.

It was an amazing opportunity to interact with awesome young people and I am continually reminded how very fortunate I am to be able to share my experiences helping others and adventuring around the world.