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Meet five former student-athletes featured in NCAA “Careers” spot

New campaign aims to promote NCAA core values, lifelong benefits of college athletics

Before COVID-19 disrupted the world, five different leaders traveled to New York City to reflect on an experience they shared: college sports.

More than a year later, those five former student-athletes from all three divisions watched the finished product — the NCAA’s newest public service announcement — for the first time over a Zoom call. Others got their first opportunity to see it Monday on NCAA social media accounts or during the selection show for the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on ESPN. It will continue to play in championship venues and on TV broadcasts over the next year.

The spot was put on hold after the NCAA Board of Governors canceled winter and spring championships in March 2020. An annual effort to promote the NCAA’s core values, this latest PSA features five fitting examples — out of millions  — who’ve used their student-athlete experience to benefit their professional lives.

April Holmes, motivational speaker and author

April Holmes uses an apt metaphor to connect her student-athlete experience to her professional life: Stay in your lane. It has to do with focus and blocking out distractions. For the former Norfolk State track and field athlete, it’s more than that. It’s part of her identity.

Holmes lost part of her leg in a train accident in 2001 but persevered to win three Paralympic medals (one gold, two bronze). She has since blossomed as a motivational speaker and writer, and she’s also founded the April Holmes Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting those with physical and learning disabilities.

Getting to these places after such a loss, Holmes said, has had everything to do with her experiences as a college athlete.

“Don’t pay any attention to distractions around you. Instead, focus on what you’re trying to do, and that was to get from the train tracks to the hospital bed to rehab to the Paralympics,” she said. “Staying in your lane, staying focused on what you’re trying to do in your life, I don’t think you get that experience anywhere else.”

Kyle Hornsby, clinical cardiac electrophysiologist

Kyle Hornsby is straightforward when he talks about the impact of his experience as a college athlete at Indiana.

“Without participation in NCAA athletics, I wouldn’t be in this position,” Hornsby said. “I wouldn’t be a cardiologist.” 

Named to the All-Tournament Team at the 2002 NCAA Final Four, Hornsby credited two direct connections from his playing days to his career. Dr. Larry Rink, the team physician for Indiana men’s basketball for more than 40 years, was “instrumental” in Hornsby’s process of getting into medical school. Dr. John Strobel, a cardiologist in Bloomington, Indiana, helped steer Hornsby to a life of looking after others’ hearts. 

“I knew exactly what I wanted to do and what I was going to strive to become,” Hornsby said of those connections.

Hornsby also met his wife, Whitney, a former soccer player, while both were competing for Indiana.

“So, yes,” Hornsby said, with a smile. “I would not have even met my wife if I had not participated in NCAA athletics.” 

Mikaela Burgess, preschool owner and director

Mikaela Burgess knows what it takes to be part of a successful team. She also knows how to lead one.

A first-team NCAA Division II All-American for Pittsburg State women’s basketball, Burgess was part of four NCAA tournament teams that included an Elite Eight run in 2016. She earned a degree in early childhood education from Pittsburg State and now owns and directs The Plaid Giraffe Preschool in her hometown of Webb City, Missouri.

Burgess said her success as a student-athlete and a professional are connected.

“Owning my own business and having employees, you don’t get anywhere without your employees, and that leadership factor, the teamwork, just being able to rally a team is honestly very similar on the court as it was off the court,” Burgess said. “When you’re going into teaching, you want a team of people who all have similar goals, and that’s just like it was being a college athlete.”

Chris Howard, university president

Chris Howard’s life would look very different if not for his time as a running back for Air Force.

“Not only my life, but both my sons, my niece and my brother were all NCAA athletes,” Howard said. “Every job interview, every opportunity I’ve ever had in my life, I’ve always reflected upon my time as an athlete, as have my family members. I’m very grateful and I’m honored to have played.”

Howard went from the gridiron to the skies as a helicopter pilot in the Air Force and later became an intelligence officer. His military career included active-duty service in Afghanistan in 2003. He is now president of Robert Morris. No matter the role, he’s credited college athletics for helping him succeed. 

“Being an NCAA athlete prepared me tremendously for my professional life, specifically attention to detail and grittiness,” Howard said. “Toughness and grittiness is something that serves us well no matter what we do, and playing football in the NCAA definitely taught me that.”

Delaney Lam, architect

The difference between soccer and architecture is not all that great. At least not in Delaney Lam’s mind.

A former soccer player for Division III Carnegie Mellon, Lam is putting her architectural degree and athletics experience to use in her career. The teamwork she learned on the pitch has been crucial in her professional role.

Lam also highlighted the boost of confidence her student-athlete experience instilled in her. It was a challenge juggling classes with athletics, but it eased her transition into the professional world.

“I think it definitely instilled a level of confidence in me just knowing how much I can put myself through,” she said. “Being an athlete at one of the nation’s top universities, it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a very hard balance, and I think I’ve experienced that if I can go through that in the professional world, it’s all been relatively easy in comparison.”