Thursday – Day 1
It was a Thursday afternoon; eachcohort member shuffled in nervously to the Marriot Marquis’ highest floor – room 4027. Each member had anxiously anticipated the weekend; with each retreat homework assignment giving us a different insight into what the retreat had to offer. As we all discovered, the retreat was in place to benefit us specifically. Therefore, each homework assignment, live video chat and survey leading up to the retreat was for Corinne and Maria to get an idea about what we wanted/needed as cohort members. After connecting flights, long drives, andbaggage carrying, we each opened the heavy wooden doors to former cohorts waiting to greet us with a smile, along with a generous team from Adidas. They were eager to make us feel welcome while handing us backpacks filled with gear and two pairs of shoes.
I think it is safe to say that we each received our first pair of Golf shoes, foreshadowing our less than athletic golfing experience that would take place sometime later in the weekend. Noor Ahmed, our sole golfer in the group took playful jokes from other cohort members as she was humbly waiting to show us up on the course by Saturday. Aswe all headed to our rooms to get ready for day 1introductions and roommate conversations, questions of what was to be expectedfilled the rooms. Little did we know, as we interacted with one another we quickly became our own Winning Edge family. As we stepped out of our comfort zones and highlighted our ambitions in the sports world we established the beginning of lifelong friendships with the help of Corinne and Maria.
After a short van ride, we entered the house where the panels and presentations would be held.We listened intently and took notes in our notebooks as we learned about our strengths and our unknowing connection to one another throughout the RISE presentation from Dr. Collin Williams. By highlighting which strengths, we felt most empowering, Dr. Collin Williams opened our eyes to how sports bring people together unknowingly. With our deepened understanding of the link we all had as athletes, Dr. Leah Turner anchored the night with a presentation on the advantages of being an athlete andhow to use them. All the presentationswere interactive with room for questions and dialogue amongst the group at any time. The presentations promototeda level of vulnerability as open group discussion took place, setting the pace for the entire weekend. We scarfed down flatbreads and ended with an onscreen facetime call with Maria as she drew close to her interviews with Zion and other draftee’s stage-sideat the 2019 NBA Draft. We all played it cool but comeon, what a way to start the retreat!
Friday – Day 2
Our day began with 6:30 am yoga at the poolside of the Marriot Marquis hotel. We experienced tranquil momentsas we laid our mats.You wouldn’t have known that shortly the city would be hustling with commuters and car horns on the way to work. The first sound came from our yoga instructor and his speaker, “Act up; youcan get snatched up.” Yes, City Girls rang supreme on the deck as our Trap yoga session began. From Chatarunga, to chair, to crow, to backbendsand finally with a relieving sigh to our final pose Savasana (literally laying on the mat). Yoga is no joke, okay?
Despite the glistening on most of our foreheads, the lesson was a way to get us in tune with our bodies for the day. Friday included a panel on emerging careers in sports live-streamedon Twitter, a keynote by mentor Will Bagget, corporate site visits and Dinner of Influence #1. Taking what we learned from Will in his keynote about networking and professional presence, each group headed to their respective sites. I can only speak personally about Turner Sports, butthe morale after the conclusion of each corporate visit was similar. The Atlanta Braves and Jackson Spalding, like Turner,took valuable time to give us insight intothe sports business and an avenue to see ourselves in the future, as a part of what they do.
The first dinner of influence was metwith the same anxious feelings we had on Day 1 arrivals. How would we put together everything we learned and juststep into this space Corinne and Maria created for us to network? Everyone went about their first conversations differently, but by the time we got to our respective table's the conversationflowed, assist cards were written,andeach cohort had a new connection to the world we all seek to impact. The night ended with professional headshots, and a small dance party to celebrate our first night together. We started to see ourselves becoming comfortable with one another, and ourselves. We developed the feeling that we were no longerthe minority, but the majority!
Saturday - Day 3
Our last full day together began on the golf course. With a short trip in the vans to east Atlanta, each of us uniformly decked out in a red polo and khaki shorts. The lesson began with a brief introduction with our golf instructor, who is also the only black man to be a part of a PGA father-sonduo. Talk about firsts…he’s still the only. The lessons on hitting off a tee and demonstrations on how to hold a putter had each of us eager to give it a swing. Some of us, Noor specifically,excelled. While others, just enjoyed the experience of a new sport. Though it was a difficult task, all 16 of us athletes quietly competed within ourselves while outwardly smiling and enjoying the experience together.
After golf, we had some downtimeto get our outfits and minds together for the last Dinner of Influence. As the dinner began, the vibe was slightly different from what we experienced onthe first night. Each cohort member was confident and engaged in their discussions as they navigated the room of business professionals, knowingthat everyone was there in support of US. I was particularly biased to Table 1, shout out to them, but each table had their interestingconversations that left each cohort member inspired by the honesty and willingness to help. At the commencement of the evening, we took our final photos and danced just a little bit more, as huge smiles widened effortlessly across our faces.
Sunday - Day 4 -
If you ask me, I think they saved the best food for last…. If his stance doesn’t tell you he’s the man, then you’re not seeing the full picture. Every meal was made just for us; dietary restrictions and preferences all considered before we arrived. From omelets to cinnamon rolls from smoked ribs to…I’ll stop before you all get too jealous. You just had to be there!
As we finished our food onSunday,there was a sense of, what now? The day’s presentations were completed, the first presentation amazingly done by Jarrod Barnes on mental toughness. Two quotes from Jarrod’s presentation stood out to me, “Winning at the right things means disappointing the wrong people” and “We are good at setting goals but not identifying sacrifices.” Jarrod emphasized finding people who will hold you accountable and finding out what you are not willing to compromise on.
Additionally, Maria Taylor’s telling of her own “come up” especially resonated with us as the retreat ended. She emphasized that people were going to try and find ways to poke holes in you, but vocalizing your goals, searching for a peace of mind and realizing that no matter the task someone can see your light shining there encompassed the retreats objectives.
Ultimately, we met with our mentors to discuss career goals, andhow to execute them. The broadcasting and production groups practiced stand-ups,andCorinne and Maria asked us all to stand up in front of the group and pick a highlight from the retreat. As well as, what we plan to do with our new insight and how we will be giving back to the WE Leadership Academy and the next cohort members. Each member had a different story, but all of us were excited to share what we’ve learned with others outside of the retreat. As Dr. Julie Shaw said, “Leaders don’t force people to follow, they invite them on the journey.”
As PJ said, “looking smoother than the Brady Bunch.” We all found new friends in each other as a part of this one blended family. I can’t thank the former cohorts, videographers, photographers, chefs, andeveryone who had a rolein the retreat enough. Corinne and Maria, you both have found a way to impact us more than you’ll ever know. We’ll continue to give back by shining at our respective schools, jobs, andin life as we search to find our place with new confidence in who we are, and passion for making our mark.
In the end, it’s important for us to strive together, to ask for what we deserve and to know that our mind is just a barrier. Maria and Corinne used this weekend to give us the inspiration, the tools andthe connections. Now it’s up to us!
Avery is a 2018 graduate of Saint Joseph’s University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Communications. She is currently completing her thesis for the Writing Studies Masters program at Saint Joseph’s University, while working as a sports production intern at Turner Sports in Atlanta.
Maria Taylor was her retreat mentor!