June 12, 2002
By Roni Rivera
For most people, Christmas comes at the end of December. For me, it came mid April in the midst of tough history classes and a long softball season, as I was selected to represent Santa Clara University at the NCAA's annual leadership conference in Buena Vista, Florida. Wait a minute! What? An all-expense paid trip to Walt Disney World? A free vacation with 300 other student-athletes from across the country? Immediately, I was transformed into a little kid and the wheels in my head began to spin at a rapid pace. I began to think of all the fun that I was going to have meeting new people, going to Disney World and participating in a conference that completely interested me. I was pumped. While my expectations were high, I never could have imagined what was actually in store for me in Florida.
I arrived in Florida and was immediately overwhelmed. Everyone arrived not knowing another soul. As a result, 300 college kids were introducing themselves to each other like crazy. I can barely remember my own name, thus remembering other names was tough. To ease the awkwardness and make the conference more personal, the entire group of 300 was broken down into 12 smaller groups who would collaborate and spend the majority of the week together. After first meeting my group, I felt as if there was no one who could relate to my oh-so-cool-Californian persona. I didn't give my team a chance. In addition to knowing no one, my high expectations of fun times at the conference received a wake up call. In our first meeting, the director laid down the guidelines and told us, "This is not a vacation. You are here to learn." He had captured my attention. Of course, I wanted to learn and grow, but I really wanted to kick back and have some fun. I wondered: could my hopes of good times and the goals of the conference reconcile? Could I have my cake and eat it too? I admit, on that first night, I had serious doubts.
The next morning, our keynote speaker, Lloyd Ward, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, gave a powerful speech on the qualities of unassailable leaders. In his address, he challenged us to become leaders who dream big and who purse their dreams with relentless vigor. We were to be "maniacs on missions," leading the way by example. Iwas truly inspired. My doubts of the week were replaced by focus and intent. It was during his speech that I realized what this conference was really about and how awesome an opportunity it really was. Being in Florida with the NCAA and 300 other student-athletes who shared my passions and visions was a once in a lifetime chance.
What happened in the next four days was simply amazing. I shed my close-minded ignorance and opened up to my team. I believe that God rigged the conference and put the coolest and most sincere people in my group. We experienced the week together, learning and challenging each other, having fun and laughing the whole way through. We went through seminars, discussions and brainstorming sessions. We played thought-provoking games at the Wide World of Sports Complex, where we tasted the sweetness of victory and the frustration of defeat. We danced, went to Disney World and talked by the pool until two in the morning. From my team, I realized that positive people are priceless learning tools and an inspiration to be around. In them, I saw leaders of all shapes, sizes and styles. They taught me so much about leadership and life simply by being themselves and I will never forget them.
In addition to developing our personal leadership skills, the NCAA required that each student-athlete create a self-directed project to bring back to their school. This put out what we had been learning into action and I gladly embraced it. My project aims to create unity and a network of support among Santa Clara's student-athletes. Next year, each team at SCU will pick a game of importance that they would like extra fan support at. The Student Athlete Leadership Council, working with the marketing department, will then hype that game up through promotion, competitions and incentives. It is going to be great. Believe me. I'm a maniac on a mission.
My five days in Florida were some of the best days of my life. I cried when I left and would give anything to go hang out with my crew again. I learned invaluable lessons and was truly motivated. I am grateful beyond words to have had that opportunity and I commit to making a difference here at Santa Clara and my life beyond.