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Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Kayla McCulley -- Expect the unexpected

By Kayla McCulley

One lesson I've learned from many years of playing sports is to expect the unexpected. As athletes, we dedicate long hours of practice and training in part to minimize these unforeseen obstacles, to impose our own physical and mental control on the race at hand. But as anyone who watched the eleventh-hour dramatics in several 2011 Women's World Cup matches this summer can attest to, sport is anything but predictable.

Turns out the Arizona skies are no different. On Monday afternoon, the 2011 espnW Women + Sports Summit was moments away from launch. Surrounded on three sides by cactus-covered hills, our setting provided a vivid backdrop to match the grand ambitions and excitement in Tucson. Ominous clouds quickly turned into raindrops that strafed the outdoor stage and tables, forcing guests inside during espnW Vice President Laura Gentile's remarks. You don't need to be a meteorologist to forecast the likelihood of sunshine in the desert, but yesterday nature delivered the unexpected.

Still, the rain did little to dampen our collective spirits at the Summit. The night concluded with an all-star panel to discuss what it means to be a "Multi-Dimensional Athlete." It was thrilling to be in the same room with female sports icons that I had long admired. I'll confess that upon seeing the superstars assembled on stage -- Lisa Leslie, Jessica Mendoza, Michelle Kwan and Summer Sanders -- I expected to hear familiar jock-speak about giving it your all, outworking your opponent and other positive yet banal messages that athletes invoke on a continual basis.

So it was immensely gratifying to witness the unexpected --four world-class champions opening up about their regrets, their vulnerabilities. The audience gained insight into their emotions just before contesting an Olympic gold-medal event. In conspiratorial fashion we were even invited to relive bridal toasts at a Leslie family wedding. The candor displayed by all four panelists set an inclusive and honest tone for upcoming workshops to discuss the future of women's sports. Take away the gold medals and championship rings, and these women really could be just like you and me. Unexpected indeed.

Kayla McCulley, who played varsity lacrosse at Pomona College, is pursuing her MBA and Masters in Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She attended the espnW Summit as the Women and Sports essay contest winner.