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A group of UF female student-athletes and coaches gathered Monday night for the inaugural 'Stay in the Game' symposium.

Tuesday April 15, 2014Stay In The Game: Female Gators Gather for Inaugural Careers-in-Sports Forum

A group of UF female student-athletes and coaches gathered Monday night for the inaugural 'Stay in the Game' symposium.

By Michelle Provenzano
GatorZone.com Writing Intern

Stay in the Game Photo Gallery

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Former University of Florida soccer player KeLeigh Hudson found a way to translate her soccer experience on the field into a career off the field.

Hudson, a forward/midfielder for the Gators from 2004-2007, had hopes of maybe one day becoming a coach when her playing career ended.

Hudson’s upbringing in a family of teachers and coaches led her to graduate school, but she continued to follow her first love by working with the soccer team.

KaLeigh Hudson

Little did Hudson (photo, left) know she’d make a career out of it.

Hudson, now director of operations for the UF soccer program, found guidance from Gators coach Becky Burleigh and turned her skills of organization and planning into a job.

Setting foot in the Champions Club on Monday night for an event dedicated to helping women student-athletes pursue careers in sports, Hudson said she was able to give some of that guidance back to current UF female athletes.

Soccer junior Tessa Andujar was one of the many female Gators to take notice of the advice being dished out from Hudson and a panel of women in various sectors of the sports industry.

Andujar wasn’t completely sure what to expect from the night’s event, which included 10 round-table discussions, but was pleased with what she took away from it.

“I always thought I’d go into something with Nike or Adidas working in marketing, but I didn’t really know how to get started,” Andujar said. “I wanted to know how people started out and how they got to where they are now.

“I came in here open-minded and wanting to be inspired.”

Inspiration came, and the light bulb went off in Andujar’s head.

“They were talking about ‘do what you love and what you’re good at,’ ” Andujar said. “I really love planning, and I think I’d really like to do something in administration.

“I love the idea of getting up in the morning, putting on business attire and doing something I can accomplish at the end of the day. I figured that out here.”

For some others it was a shocking realization that they could find a niche of their own in the sports industry, no matter how obscure the job may be.

To junior gymnast Jamie Shisler’s surprise, her original expectations of the event didn’t compare to the lessons she took from it.

“It was described to me as speed dating,” Shisler. “And I was like, ‘okay, this could either be really, really good or really bad.’ ”

Luckily for her, it went really well.

She was taken aback by the women she met and the opportunities she could have in sports with her economics degree — even in the most unrelated departments.

“One lady was talking about how she used analytics in marketing, so it’s a more concrete version versus something more conceptual,” Shisler said. “It was really eye-opening to see that you could take a more analytical approach to something that is more conceptual.

"You forget that there is the team behind the team. But if you really have a passion for something, particularly sports, it’s just cool to see so many different avenues and that there is no traditional route on how to do it.”

This “Stay in the Game” event started as the brainchild of Lynda Tealer, executive associate athletic director for administration at UF, and Burleigh after a random discussion months ago.

“Becky Burleigh and I attended an event over the summer and the idea was keeping women sort of involved in sport,” Tealer said. “We have all of these female student-athletes -- and they are such fantastic people and have so much about them with being so talented -- we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if any of them got involved in some aspect of sport.’ ”

From just a conversation, Tealer was inspired to put together a committee to make this happen for Florida’s female student-athletes.

And to her delight, women in the industry like ESPN sideline reporter Steffi Sorensen, ESPN vice president of production Stephanie Druley, and many still at Florida working with the University Athletic Association jumped at the chance to help these student-athletes.

“I think the experience was awesome because we took a lot out of it, too,” Druley said about the night’s speakers. “It was very special, and I just have an appreciation for the time constraints these students have to work under.”

With more than 80 female student-athletes and 40 presenters in attendance, Tealer plans to make it an annual event — all with hopes of showing these women that they can find their path in sports beyond the court or the field.

The evening made a lasting impact on Andujar.

“They all collectively loved sports and they all had a hard work ethic that’s similar to mine,” Andujar said of the speakers. “What resonated with me at one of the tables was that you have to be persistent and be good with relationships.

“It empowered me and showed me that I do have a chance to make it.”

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