Olympians Share Insights on Leadership From Sport and Business

Kara Lynn Joyce addresses students while holding her olympic medal

Kara Lynn Joyce, olympic athlete, addresses students while holding her olympic medal.

It's rare to interact with an Olympic athlete, but this week, Davidson students and scholar-athletes had the opportunity to engage with two medal-winning Olympians.

Through support from Barings, a global financial services firm headquartered in Charlotte, Davidson College welcomed Olympic swimmers Leah Smith and Kara Lynn Joyce to campus for a presentation on leadership, confidence and the transition from sport to business. The Center for Career Development and the Davidson Athletic Department helped to organize the event.

Smith and Joyce spoke to a packed crowd of more than 120 students, many from Wildcat athletic teams, about their experiences as college and Olympic athletes. The program highlighted how the skills they developed as student and professional athletes have propelled them on successful paths in and out of the pool.

Olympians Leah Smith and Kara Lynn Joyce met with scholar-athletes to talk sport and professional for an event sponsored by college partner Barings, the Center for Career Development and the Athletics Department.

Smith, a standout University of Virginia athlete and current U.S. National Swim Team member who won bronze and gold at the 2016 Olympic games, reflected on her Olympic semi-finals experience, reminding students about the importance of perspective.

"I looked around the room and started psyching myself out thinking that they were all the best swimmers from their countries," she said. "I wasn't counting myself as one of them."

She shifted her thinking for the finals, counting herself among the best, and swam her way to an Olympic bronze medal in Rio.

Joyce is a three-time Olympian and successful entrepreneur. She founded the LEAD Sport Summit, an annual event that brings together teenage girls to work with women Olympians and mentors.

Joyce, an 18-time NCAA Champion at the University of Georgia, shared insights that came from her time as a scholar-athlete and have transferred to her role in business: take risks, practice resilience, have patience and surround yourself with a great team.

"As athletes we know how to get back up and try again," she said.

Joyce said resiliency was especially helpful while putting together the first LEAD Summit.

"We sold one ticket in five weeks, but within the first two months we sold out the event," she said. "I trusted my gut that this was the right thing to do."

Maggie Farrell '19, a member of the Davidson women's swim team, moderated a panel discussion. She led the discussion toward topics including motivation and sport/life balance.

"This [scholar-athlete] balance is one of the toughest things you can do," Joyce said. "The grit [you develop] carries over after your athletic career ends."

Smith said believing in yourself and building relationships outside of your sport is important.

After the event, students met the Olympians one-on-one for photos and a chance to extend the conversation.

Kelly Fitzgerald '21, a member of the Davidson women's basketball team, left the program with some take-aways.

"They've (both) achieved a high level of success, so I wanted to get their perspectives," she said.

Fitzgerald noted that the Olympians spoke to the importance of balancing team and individual success.

"This is something we're working on right now with our team," she said. "I liked hearing how your individual success helps the team achieve success as well."