Are you defined by your limits? What if you turned something that was a perceived weakness into a strength? What if you did something no one – even yourself – thought you could do?
I first met today’s Mermaid in 1991 at a family reunion in a hot hotel lobby. I went as a favor to my grandfather though I doubted I’d know any of the relatives. There I met a red-head who told me she was an incoming freshman at the University of Oklahoma, where I would be a sophomore. (Smart, pretty, great taste and related to me!)
“Are you going through rush?” I asked her.
She said “yes” and I told her I’d see her in a few weeks. I knew from the year prior it can be scary to go through sorority rush when you’re from a small town and I made Katrina my “rush baby” which basically meant I wanted her to be my Alpha Chi Omega sister and made sure everyone knew how cool she was. Luckily for us, she joined our sorority and luckily for me, she became my “lil’ sis.” We are bonded though big-hair, bad boyfriends, study hall hell, fundraising goals, and roomie chats into the wee hours of the night.
She’s a mermaid because she’s bold and brilliant. Not only was she the creator of the Endeavor Games at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, OK but she also has a great story of strength through adversity. Alpha Chi recently named my lil to be in their first Real. Strong. Women of Distinction selection, too.
Let’s jump in and meet Katrina, shall we? (Mermaid Pearls of Wisdom in bold.)
ML: Katrina, this feels VERY GROWN UP talking to you about this, but you know I love to pull you into deep discussions, too. Tell us about the moment you made the deep dive for your dream in your field of work with UCO Endeavor games and some of your successes you are most proud of.
KS: I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998, the same year I was finishing my masters degree in sport administration and getting married. My goal was to work in major league baseball and I had an internship lined up and ready to go. But the diagnosis made me question what it was I wanted to do with the rest of my life and where I wanted to be. I began to attend programs and events for people with MS and it was then that I first started thinking about people with physical disabilities and their opportunities to participate in sport. I wasn’t physically disabled, (and am still doing pretty well) but I also realized that my life could change in an instant and would want the same opportunities my able-bodied counterparts had! With that, I began to formulate the idea to host an athlete competition for individuals with physical disabilities. It was a huge leap, leaving my current job to start a new non-profit and there were no guarantees. But my supervisor, husband, friends and family encouraged me and I decided to go for it. We began planning in January of 2000 and held the first Endeavor Games in June that very year. My husband actually came up with the word “Endeavor” and I love to tell people he named the event! He is and always has been my biggest supporter and believes in the event just as much as I do.
We had always hosted the Endeavor Games on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma and after a few years, UCO actually reached out to us to discuss a more formal partnership. By 2004, I was employed by UCO and the university had taken on the event as a way to reach out to the community. UCO’s vision to take a chance on our event was so important and led to a designation as a US Olympic and Paralympic Training Site and Community Partner. I believe that was a huge success but UCO definitely provided the opportunity. I truly belief it is rare for successes to happen solely to an individual. There was always someone else in the picture helping to make a dream become a reality.
Another success is simply seeing the athletes compete each and every year. There is nothing like it and it makes my heart smile. My favorite event is the youth group running the short distances. We have had three-year-olds running down the track into their mom’s arms at the finish line and I think I cry every year.
Personally, I am a typical proud parent. My son Cal, is 13, plays all kinds of team sports and has a great interest in politics . My daughter is nine and loves to dance, sing, and just started playing volleyball. It is fun to get to be a part of what they want to do. I just try to support them the best I can.
ML: I love that you turned your own challenge into this great gift for athletes and families and our community. Tell us, what always brings a smile to your face?
KS: When the Endeavor Games are over every year I can’t help but reflect and think of the weekend and all of the people that were impacted. I have been doing this for 17 years and always leave the event happy and satisfied. I am not involved in the day to day operations of the Games anymore as I oversee other areas, but that weekend, everyone comes together, and we make it a success and I am so grateful to have the wonderful people on our staff and as volunteers. When I started the event, J.D. and I were newlyweds with no children. Now that we have two kids, they also volunteer at the event. When I see them at the sports, engaging with the athletes and even advocating for this event, I can’t help but smile. They are my biggest fans!
ML: What’s been the biggest challenge in your life and how did/do you overcome adversity?
KS: Until last year, I would have answered this question referring back to when I was diagnosed with MS. And, it was tough. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it initially and I was very frightened. I even told J.D. he didn’t have to marry me! But he said that was ridiculous and we just moved forward. Last year, we were hit with a double whammy though. J.D. was diagnosed with kidney cancer which was discovered by accident when he had to have an emergency appendectomy. When you are faced with something so scary and you have no idea what the outcome will be, you realize how precious life really is. We prayed a lot and had family and friends rally around us. The kidney was removed, the cancer was contained and he has been cancer free since. Just three months after his diagnosis however, Cal’s appendix ruptured (I’m not sure how in the world two in our family had appendix issues the same year!). He was very sick and was in OU Children’s Hospital for a week. He couldn’t eat, he was very weak and we were extremely scared. When they were finally able to remove the appendix, seeing him being wheeled away to surgery was the most frightening moment in my life. Family is everything. We overcame by being supportive of each other, being positive and having faith. I did a UCO TedX talk last year and one of my items I talked about learning was “It will be okay”. And, in the end, it was. Cal is fine and healthier than ever. J.D. is good as well and my MS is still being managed. Life is not easy. It can be very difficult. But in the end, things tend to work out. Eleanor Roosevelt once said “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face…. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
ML: What are your favorite tool(s) for enlightened living (presence, intention, action)?
KS: As evidenced above, I LOVE quotes. I have one in my office that simply reads, “Don’t let the best you have ever done be the standard for the rest of your life.” I am always looking for ways to grow myself as an individual personally and professionally. I believe in trying to give my kids different experiences and to have empathy towards all kinds of people. I love to travel as a family and also feel it is important to get away with just J.D. I enjoy hiking, playing basketball with Cal and hitting a volleyball with Kate. We ride bikes around the neighborhood as a family. To balance it out, we also watch The Goldbergs every week and the kids make fun of how we grew up in the 80’s! One of my favorite “me time” activities is just sitting on our back porch and having a glass of wine. In the end, I believe in balance and I may not always achieve balance, but I do always try.
Connect with Katrina and learn more about the UCO Endeavor games here:
Twitter – @MamaKat48
Instagram – katrina.beth
TedXUCO Link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtNHQHacobU
To living in the deep,
Just for fun- a throwback to our OU AXO days. Thanks for sharing your story, Katrina.