When I first started my career in sports broadcasting—I set my mind on a lofty dream. I dreamt of being a college football reporter. I knew this job was highly competitive and highly sought after by many people, and that the odds were slim as far as the percentage of people who actually get to do it. Admittedly, I was often bashful to share this dream, because it almost seemed impossible. Despite the odds, there was always a voice inside me that said I could do it— to keep going, and to keep believing. The same voice that fueled me during strenuous times as a Big Ten athlete. I learned from an early age, it is essential to listen to that inner voice. Greg Harden taught me that. He was my sports psychologist and college mentor whom I worked with for four years on mental strength and eliminating self-defeating thoughts. Upon college graduation, I made it my mission to work for an icon of college sports—Big Ten Network. I dreamt that one day I would walk the sideline of the Big House (where I saw my first college football game at age five), holding that beloved BTN microphone, sharing the stories about the fellow student-athletes that I could closely relate to. I didn’t really know how I would get there, but I had this internal belief that I would eventually make it. Sometimes it’s not about the “how,” it’s about collecting life lessons amidst the journey, and learning as you go. I knew my passion would eventually lead me to my purpose, but I did not know the kind of adventure that was about to unfold the next five years of my life after graduation in 2012.
In the last five years, I’ve moved four times, to four different cities, in four very different jobs (ironic that my Michigan volleyball number was also four), all while chasing the dream that inspired my sport broadcasting career. Five Years. Four moves. Not exactly what I had planned in my mind of how this was all going to work out. To fully understand my journey, who I am, and the passion I have for this job, you must first understand the synopsis of the rare path I took to get here, starting with my humble beginnings of selling freight to truck drivers. Not exactly the job of my dreams, but it was a starting point.
Many of you may not know that my broadcast journey actually began with a real world grinding sales job, which required early days, long hours, and 120 cold calls a day, minimum. It was my first job out of college. It sparked my first “big” move, from my small town comfort zone in West Michigan, to the large city of Chicago. Did I enjoy slanging freight to truck drivers every day? No… but, it paid my bills, it relocated me to Chicago, and most importantly it provided me with humility. Now located in Chicago, I was one step closer to Big Ten Network. While working sales, I also worked at BTN on the weekends, but not in the role you might assume. I was a football game logger and production assistant, both smaller roles behind the scenes. No complaints came out of my mouth, I was just happy for the opportunity to be there. This is also why I have so much respect for those who put in the work off-camera—they are the people that make it all happen, and deserve most of the credit in television. Again, I was humbled, but I now know what it’s like to fulfill most roles behind the camera, a perspective that I will never take for granted. I eventually got my first on-air opportunity as a volleyball analyst. I was thrilled. It was a small role, but it gave me my first small taste. I felt strongly that all I needed was a chance to prove myself.
Flash forward to the next year, fall of 2013, BTN asked me to come back for another season of volleyball and I was ecstatic to continue for another season. However, my sales job said they could no longer work my schedule to accommodate BTN. Easy choice. Time to find a new sales job. Nothing was going to stop me from my broadcast dreams, this was my passion, I had to keep doing it.
I didn’t have enough experience to commit to broadcasting full-time yet, so I picked up a new sales job to supplement my nearly inexistent broadcast income. This time, it was medical device sales. Initially I thought this would be the job that stole my heart away from sports broadcasting. I had a great salary, stock options, total upward mobility, full autonomy over my schedule while working from home, and I was helping critically injured brain patients. I still love that dang Pupillometer. Yes, a Pupillometer. It quantifies your pupillary response to light, and I still think it is fascinating (true life disclaimer: I’m actually a giant nerd). Pretty good gig though, right? Wrong, only because it wasn’t my passion. I was 23 years old, and managing the entire Midwest territory. Put this picture in your mind: stressed out, sweating redhead (we’re talking upper lip sweat here), racing up and down neuro intensive care units, hunting down neurosurgeons in desperate attempt to sell them my product. I think I would have had more success finding a needle in a haystack. On the rare occasion, I did find Mr. Neurosurgeon, most of them looked at me like, “I’ve been in school longer than you’ve been alive, kid, can I help you?” They had a valid point. You get the picture. I was unhappy with the constant rejection. The reality of seeing critically injured patients and their, often times, tearful families ripped my heart out, I just wanted to give out this device for free so it could help as many people as possible (that’s also probably why I could never hit quota). Mainly, I felt devastated that this new job was stealing me away from my dreams. Almost a year in, my sales boss made it clear I needed to make a choice: medical device sales or broadcasting. She could sense that I wasn’t “all in.” It wasn’t possible for me to be all-in, I hadn’t accomplished what my heart set out for yet. It wasn’t easy giving up the money and security of that job, but I knew deep down that I had to walk away to keep following my passion and intuition. I didn’t have a perfect plan in place. I didn’t actually have any plan in place, other than saving as much as I could and committing full speed ahead to getting more broadcast work. I knew I’d rather look back and say I gave it my all, than to deal with lifelong regret of not knowing what could have been.
Come summer of 2015, I was much closer to my broadcast goal, freelancing more frequently, gaining valuable experience, but I also had no money without a full-time job. This part of my journey was the hardest. I leaned on family and friends a lot. One person in particular, who never gave up on me and my college football dreams during this time of uncertainty, was my late friend from home, Mike Sadler, who played football at Michigan State, and he continues to be a large part of my current motivation. I was poor, but I was unwilling to accept defeat, so I strung together several part-time jobs to make ends meet and kept my nose to the grind. Mike was equally poor after taking a year off, but he still came to visit Chicago, bought my beers, and put a smile on my face. He didn’t care about my “status” or lack thereof. A true friend.
I was just about to start my third part-time job, when I got a phone call. It was Kyle Hanlin with the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. There was a job opening with FOX Sports South as their team reporter and show host, and I was submitted as a candidate for the position. An NHL team? Are you kidding me? I was so pumped. It turned out I got the job, and I could still freelance with BTN in the offseason—it was the best of all my worlds coming together. I didn’t know a single soul in Raleigh, North Carolina, but it didn’t matter. I threw a going away party, packed up my life, and moved South because my passion trumped the fear that I had of moving somewhere new. Mike drove in for that going away party in Chicago, he wouldn’t miss it. He assured me it would lead to big things.
One year later in 2016, NHL Network came knocking about a personality driven show that I would become the host of, Monday through Friday. Once again, I packed my life up, and relocated to New Jersey/NYC. At 26 years old, I would be hosting a nationally televised show and covering the Stanley Cup. Simultaneously, Big Ten Network offered me a football package to fulfill on the weekends—a new show they were launching called BTN Tailgate, that I would be the female voice on. Professional hockey AND college football. Four years ago, I was selling freight to truck drivers. Is this making sense to you yet? Me neither. However, this perspective is so key. I can say I genuinely appreciate how lucky I am to be fulfilling my passion, in a job I love.
Now that you have come to understand a brief snapshot of my unconventional journey (and trust me, it would require a book for me to dive into all the details I skipped over to this point), we have finally arrived to the summer of 2017. The fourth and final move of this five-year journey. I felt for the first time in my career, I had enough reputable experience to succeed as a sports broadcaster, wherever my next step might be. Completely fearless for the first time. That was a beautiful feeling. This was the path I committed to, and now I’m finally in a place where I can fully own it. The possibilities continue to be endless, I refuse to look at life any other way. As fate would have it, the next opportunity arose with Big Ten Network as a college football reporter, studio host, and broadcaster of all sports. Once again, I packed up my life, and drove cross country from NYC to Chicago. For the first time in all of my moves, I felt self-assured, calm, and at peace with the path my life was headed. I was coming home. I was returning to the people who treated me with the same kindness as a football logger, as they do an on-air personality on football Saturday. The place that first told me I would make it in this business.
For this reason, I will forever feel a loyalty towards Big Ten Network. They are my roots. The wonderful people that fill that building, are what make it feel like home for me. They gave me my first chance on-air, and the honest feedback I needed to improve. They didn’t judge me when I showed up to the office as if I was a full-time employee, and in reality, was only assigned to log one football game that week. They included me, when I took a risk by quitting my full-time sales jobs, and barged down their doors, lobbying for any opportunity. When my first break came along outside of BTN, they were the first people to cheer in my success. They continue to fulfill my goals of being on the college football stage. I owe Big Ten Network a big thank you. Thank you for believing in me from day one, and thank you for bringing me back home to Chicago… this time, to live out the dreams that you helped me start.
Be kind. Be humble. Believe.