Kelly Kolker
FINALIST: Finding your Passion and Creating Your Role



Go, go, go. Whether is was growing up and playing 3 and 4 sports at a time, being in college and juggling a varsity sport and 18 credits, or starting a small company after graduate school with little to no experience, my life has been a constant balancing act of time and priorities.

It didn't take me long to realize in school that I had a knack for speaking and learning foreign languages. My grandmother was also great at languages, and insists I get that trait "from her side of the family." I studied abroad and traveled through out South America and Europe and realized how truly passionate I was about foreign languages and cultures. I was surely going to get into some type of interpreting work for the UN or the State Department.

However, after my senior soccer season ended at the University of Richmond, I felt a huge hole inside. I had been an athlete pretty much since the day I could walk, and now my athletic career had come to an life without having some relationship to sports seemed completely unfathomable. This is when I knew, my life wasn't going to go exactly as I had intended. My priority now was not just working in an environment where I could speak foreign languages, it was combining my 2 passions, SPORTS and FOREIGN LANGUAGES.




I was fortunate to attend graduate school and participate in a number of exciting global projects and events that led me to Greece, Paris, the Netherlands, and Germany. The highlight and what I believe to be was my "AHA MOMENT" came in Paris during the Rugby World Cup. My graduate class was participating in a global sports forum and represented the US Delegation. Groups from South Africa, Morocco, France, Ireland, Scotland were also present. At a wonderful ceremony in which the Mayor of the town of St. Denis (9 miles north of Paris) welcomed everyone to his city and spoke about the importance of sport in uniting peoples from all over the world, I was asked to go up on stage with the mayor and translate for all of the non-french speaking delegations. This was the first time I had really felt like I was combining my passion for Sport and Foreign Language, and to have all of those other delegations relying on me as their main source of comprehension and communication felt incredibly empowering and exciting. As I stood up on the stage and interpreted for the mayor, I thought how incredible it was that even though we are all from different places around the globe, we all really did speak a universal language which had brought us all together, the universal language of sport.This was a true leadership experience for me, and now I was ready to conquer the world. However, I could not anticipate the journey on which I was about to embark.



As graduate school was winding down, I started to explore job opportunities in the sports world as did the rest of my classmates. The directors of my program and I had a very good relationship and he approached me one afternoon about starting our own business. CHILDREN'S BOOKS? I certainly didn't have a degree in English and had never written a book before. His idea was to take inspirational coaches and athletes that have wonderful stories, and write a children's book about sports which teach and reinforce core values and lifeskills. I thought it was a great concept but still, there wasn't any security in the job financially by any means, and it had never been one of my "career paths." It was a total risk.

However, there had been so much negative attention in the sports world, whether it was Michael Vick or Barry Bonds, we wanted to remind parents, teachers and children that there really are wonderful lessons to be learned through sports. I know I had learned the basics about socialization, teamwork, leadership, and respect all through sports when I was growing up, and I wanted other kids to learn those lessons through sports as well.

It did not take me long to get on board, after meeting North Carolina State Head Women's Basketball Coach Kay Yow. For those of you not familiar with Coach Yow, she is one of the all time greatest women's basketball coaches and has fought and continues to fight stage 4 breast cancer. She is truly the most inspirational person I have ever met. I spoke with her for 20 minutes in her office at NC State about her story and her desire to teach children the importance of Perseverance and Never giving up. I was so moved, that had the first draft of that story written before I had even gotten back to Richmond, VA. The book has done very well, and has led our company to publish several other books. I realized that the potential of these books to really impact children and make a difference was significant. I didn't start writing because I loved to write, but I felt compelled and inspired by people like Coach Yow. To me, getting an email from a daughter that says, "I lost my mother to breast cancer, and want you know I'm thankful for you writing this book so that I can share her story with with my children." makes it all worth.


So let's fast forward to the present...well take it back a couple of weeks...I was really enjoying my job, although I did find it a bit one dimensional. I think I was exciting about helping kids and dealing with sports but I knew that deep down I wasn't 100% fulfilled. A couple of weeks ago, my boss and I had a meeting with a larger sports and entertainment consultancy firm. I walked into this office and was blown away. It looked like such a fun and exciting place to work. One of the things I struggle with is that I am always working by myself, and I thrive off of human interaction. So walking into this office really excited me. I was not there for a job interview, but rather a business meeting about working together on some future projects. The meeting went well, and much to my surprise I received an email from the CEO the next days that said, "Why don't you come work for us?"All sorts of thoughts ran through my head from, "this is amazing" to "uh oh, what about my current job?". Ultimately, it could not have been a better situation. Our company is still going to operate, but will form a partnership with this new company. My boss and the other members of playground were extremely supportive and understanding. They recognized this as a great opportunity for me and my career. One of the things that really excited me about this new company was the opportunity to learn about so many different things. They had a publishing division, but also represented coaches and athletes, served as marketing and sponsorship agencies for professional sports teams, and even had a whole international development team, which for me, was a dream come true. Being young, I am not exactly sure what I want to do in this industry and this company pretty much said, "you can figure that out here, and you can do it all."

So, that is where I am, and this is what I'll do. I know that many challenges lie ahead, and I'd by lying if I said that I wasn't nervous or had tons of questions, the main one being, "What will my role be with this new company."


My personality is to want to do everything, and do it well. That is partly why I was successful in graduate school (which was very team oriented) and am a good leader.I am sure I will have to balance as best I can the transition from my old job (although I will continue to write stories and work with them as part of this newly formed partnership) with the structure and culture of a new office, a new team, a totally new experience. I do not yet know exactly what my role will be, but I do know that I will be a proactive member in creating that role for myself.