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WOMEN: GENDER DIVERSITY AND EQUALITY


Lessons from college sports to the
corporate workplace

By Stephanie Richartz, Senior Analyst, Resources, Accenture Consulting, Chicago
LinkedIn

There was no way I could have known how my life would be transformed by my experience as a walk-on athlete to the University of Illinois Track and Field team. My original destination was very specific–graduate, get a job and have some fun along the way.

Adjusting to college was challenging, both as an engineering major and student-athlete. My coursework was time consuming, the training expectations demanding and balance…impossible. There never seemed to be enough time, but I truly believe that it is possible to make time for the things that are important.

The most valued skill I developed during school is the ability to prioritize tasks and focus my efforts without distraction. If I concentrated on school work for three hours, I would have time to spend with friends in the evening. If I let distractions take hold of my time, the original three hours of school work increased to six.

Incorporating things I love, like laughing with friends, helped to keep my mind rejuvenated and my soul constantly energized. Focusing my effort in the moment is a valuable skill that has enabled me to be productive and successful in my career thus far. I am able to prioritize tasks and be sure that I always have time for things outside of work that I am passionate about. This focus has allowed me to stay involved with track and field while also pursing my professional career.

"Focusing my effort in the moment is a valuable skill that has enabled me to be productive and successful."

My improvement in my freshman year of college was beyond all expectations. Each subsequent year I continued to grow as an athlete while maturing as a competitor. After winning the Big Ten Pole Vault title, the highlight of my sophomore year was participating in the 2012 Olympic Trials.

My success continued in the classroom and in the vault until I experienced a devastating injury in the fall of my senior year. What seemed to be a simple ankle sprain turned into a season ending injury, filling me with fear and discouragement as I reflected on my accomplishments and questioned the future. There were so many goals I had yet to accomplish, and the road to recovery was long and hard. As I took a step back to really appreciate my journey and how far I had come, I decided to return for a fifth year to finish my degree, compete in my final collegiate season and explore what the future might hold.

Returning from injury created countless physical and mental challenges, as I spent many hours in the athletic training room trying to combat the discomfort and pain I continued to experience. I fought fear daily and couldn’t comprehend why I felt the way I did. My journey had taken a turn, and although I didn’t know where I was headed I tried to focus on recovery, healing and fighting my way back. With the love and support of teammates, coaches, friends and family, I worked incredibly hard to return and compete at a level even higher than prior to my injury.

My last collegiate season and track career as a whole was more than I could have ever predicted or imagined. I ended my career placing third in the pole vault at both the Indoor and Outdoor NCAA Championships, as a four-time All American and five-time Big Ten Champion, and placed 14th at USA National Championships.

Looking back, my journey exposed me to a diverse, spunky, talented and passionate group of men and women. I learned so much from them, and they challenged me and my world views daily. Each had their own unique background, experience, talent and perspective; as individuals we were each good, but together we formed an unstoppable team.

I notice something similar in my current role at Accenture, a global professional services company. Every day I work with a phenomenal group of intelligent individuals with unique expertise and perspective, which challenges me to grow and enables us to deliver high quality work to our clients.

"I started with a goal for each day until the bigger picture began to come to life before my eyes."

I have always identified myself as a multidimensional person. I am driven by countless passions, and, while it is easy to overcommit my time, I believe each unique identity helps other parts of my personality grow. The athlete helps the student, which helps the social individual. Similarly, I believe that the balance I work hard to maintain in my professional career reaps the same benefits. I look forward to coming to work each day, but, when work is done, I am excited to use my remaining time to develop other parts of my personality. I never want to stop learning and challenging myself both in my personal and professional life.

By the end of my college career I reached my original destination, but along the way I enjoyed and embraced every moment, good and bad. There are many times of trial and transition in life, and while I never knew where exactly they would lead, I started with a goal for each day until the bigger picture began to come to life before my eyes.

Being a college athlete built my passionate spirit, tenacity and the desire to bring my best to everything I do. It exposed me to diversity of culture, thought and perspective, and the journey prepared me for the next stage in my life.

As a Business & Systems Integration senior analyst in Technology Consulting for Accenture, I am able to continue to pursue my dreams, both on and off the track, and add value to the world every day. While I was one spot short of qualifying for the Olympic Trials in 2016, I am proud to be ranked 25th in the nation, and I am excited to see what the future holds.

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