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2018 Silver Anniversary Award: Nnenna Lynch

Former NCAA Woman of the Year finds leadership roles in public, private sectors

Nnenna Lynch won the women’s 5,000 meters at the 1997 World University Games in Catania, Italy. Massimo Sambucetti / AP Images

Nnenna Lynch, a seven-time All-America distance runner and 1992 national champion in the 3,000 meters at Villanova, long had a sense of how she wanted to contribute away from the track.

Lynch will receive an NCAA Silver Anniversary Award at the NCAA Honors Celebration on Wednesday, Jan. 17, in Indianapolis. The annual award recognizes six distinguished former student-athletes on the 25th anniversary of the end of their intercollegiate athletics eligibility.

“I had a vague notion to be a force for good in the world,” Lynch said.

Through her work as a policy advisor in the New York mayor’s office and her private sector efforts to create eco-friendly real estate projects in distressed neighborhoods, she has done just that. The foundation for that success, though, was paved on the track.

Team first

Lynch’s Villanova teams captured the Division I Women’s Cross Country Championships in each of her four years. Her teammates taught her the ability to push through the most difficult training days in order to rise to the top, together.

“To be our best as individuals,” Lynch said, “we needed a team.”

The importance of relying on others to succeed in life translated to her professional career, where she has focused on community development — she currently serves on the housing advisory board for the Robin Hood Foundation.

Finding balance

While she had teammates and well-meaning coaches at her side, Lynch had to develop her own ability to manage the stresses and demands of athletics.

“You have a regimented schedule and you’re supposed to push yourself every day, but it can’t be every day,” she said. “You need to have your head in a good place to perform well.”

Her ability to find balance translated to tremendous success on the track and off: She was named the 1993 NCAA Woman of the Year for her athletic, academic and extracurricular achievements. Lynch became a Rhodes Scholar in the same year, matriculating to the University of Oxford via one of the world’s oldest and most renowned international fellowships.

Reaching out

After a six-year professional running career, in which she won gold in the 5,000 meters at the 1997 Summer Universiade in Italy, Lynch dove headlong into a new life. Stints at Goldman Sachs and as a partner at a New York City eco-centric builder led to a role in the New York mayor’s office. She worked for Michael Bloomberg, where she led teams focused on economic development and small businesses. Currently, she works as a managing principal and director of development at the Georgetown Company, a corporate real estate firm.

From her championship-level performances as a student-athlete to helping implement housing and economic development policies, Lynch knew what she wanted out of life and remained focused on achieving it. Irene Ritaccio, her former college teammate, isn’t surprised by the successful path her friend has followed.

“She is incredibly consistent,” Ritaccio said. “She has always been a woman with a lot of strong conviction. Even as a college student, she knew she wanted to go into the community to help people.”