Tennis legend Billie Jean King and Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee have taken different paths along their respective journeys. At a recent workshop in New York City, they shared the challenges they overcame as young women in sport with a select group of female sports entrepreneurs. What unites them is their appreciation for how sport changed them, the lasting role it has played in their lives, and their determination to help the next generation accomplish even more than they have.
“Athletes have an exceptional opportunity to help make the world a better place,” King says. “We have an opportunity, and I think we have a responsibility to do it.”
Joining King and Joyner-Kersee are Katie Holloway, Paralympic gold medalist, and Robin Arzón, vice president of fitness programming at Peloton. The entrepreneurs they’re addressing have been handpicked by adidas and iFundWomen to receive business mentorship and the opportunity to learn from these top athletes. And their message is clearly something that resonates with everyone in the room.
KEEP DEVELOPING YOUR GAME
Sports influenced each of these competitors differently, and they’ve applied the insights they’ve gained to their post-athletic endeavors, which include best-selling books and thriving philanthropic programs. But what they all agree on is that the preparation, hard work, and mental training required of a professional athlete has the power to shape a life for the better off the playing field.
Arzón believes not only in shared lessons and values but also in the tangible value of physical movement in an entrepreneur’s life. “There is a direct correlation between being an athlete and an entrepreneur. Direct,” she adds for emphasis. “I would tell the entrepreneurs who have yet to find their entry point into some type of physical-fitness movement, regime process, to figure it out because that is the key to your next level.”
All the women here this weekend share a mindset that helps them to see potential where most would see only daunting challenges. Their careers may follow different paths and objectives, but this outlook connects them. “There’s a lot of commonality between athletes and entrepreneurs,” Holloway says. “We see a challenge in front of us that people may see as a huge risk, and we look at it as, ‘Hey, that’s an opportunity.’ ”
With risk, of course, comes the potential for failure. Perhaps that’s why the theme that unites the athletes and founders most indelibly is their belief in the power of resilience—the ability and willingness to accept failure and learn from it is highlighted again and again over the course of the workshop.
“Being an entrepreneur, you have to have long-term goals—the aspiration and understanding that it’s going to take time,” says Joyner-Kersee, comparing the role to her experience in sport. “You know there are going to be tough times along the way, and I believe those tough times, those struggles, make you appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish much more and allow you to continue to go on with it, to stay in it for the long haul.”
A look of recognition crosses many of the founders’ faces as they discuss the hurdles they’ve overcome in building their businesses. That they’re sharing such personal recollections with women who’ve helped to change the face of modern female sport lends gravity to their stories.
“Nobody wins all the time,” King says. “Be resilient. Learn from it. Keep developing your game, so to speak. Not just as an athlete, but in life. That’s what makes greatness.”
FIND YOUR SUPERHEROES
While the athletes are not here to offer the tangible business advice the entrepreneurs will receive from mentors at iFundWomen, they provide something just as powerful: an example.
“It’s extremely important for girls and women to have leaders in sport that look like themselves and they can see themselves in,” says Holloway, who revealed that she grew up filled with self-loathing after having her leg amputated when she was two—a feeling she overcame through sports. “I want to be that for a little girl.”
Arzón notes that it’s not always possible to find a mentor in the quickly changing worlds of sport and business. The passions and skills of one generation may not exist or be applicable to the next. Others who are geographically isolated might get discouraged by a feeling that potential mentors are too remote. She stresses the importance of finding inspiration and strength in those you look up to, be it a mother, teacher, or, say, Michelle Obama. “Find the superheroes you respect and learn [from], and observe them long enough [to apply] that standard to your own journey,” she says.
As the day goes on, it becomes evident that the entrepreneurs are not the only ones benefitting from the exchange. The athletes themselves are clearly delighted that these talented business minds have set themselves to changing sports and look forward to seeing the effect they will have on future generations.
“The entrepreneurs we were able to speak with are going to have such an impact,” Joyner-Kersee says. “Helping them connect and talk with like-minded people was very inspiring because you find out that you’re not alone. I think that’s one of the great things that sport can do. You can bring people together from all walks of life, and say, ‘Your struggle is the same as mine, so how can we figure out to make that struggle a lot easier on all of us, collectively?’ It becomes a community, not just for a moment, but for a lifetime.”
If you’re a woman with an industry-changing idea, you too can receive financial support and expert business coaching from adidas and iFundWomen. To find out more about the program and apply, visit www.ifundwomen.com/adidas. Deadline is March 31.