Lauryn Williams and other What Matters to U event participants

Alumna, Olympian: Lead with love

By Emmalyse Brownstein

Alumna, Olympian: Lead with love

By Emmalyse Brownstein
Lauryn Williams, track and field medalist, addressed the University community during Wednesday night’s “What Matters to U” virtual event.

The Student Government “What Matters to U” speaker series hosted its second guest of the semester in its new virtual format on Wednesday evening. Lauryn Williams, a three-time track and field and bobsled Olympic medalist, joined moderators—Michelle Atherley, a graduate student and track athlete, and Renée Dickens Callan, executive director of student life—to talk about her experiences on and off the track. The live-streamed discussion hit topics like learning from failures, financial organization, and overcoming divisiveness.

“With COVID-19, it’s really hard to get students excited because everything feels very scary,” said Spencer Schwartz, chair of the What Matters to U planning agency. “So, we wanted to bring in someone who could really speak to students about what it means to be a ’Cane. We wanted someone who could really liven up our spirits.”

During the conversation—presented as part of 'Canes Spirit Week—Williams addressed how she overcame self-doubt and negativity after two failed baton exchanges during relay races in the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. “I internalized a lot of that as being my fault. I think there’s a certain amount of taking responsibility for actions that are yours, but also there’s realizing that there’s a bigger picture to everything that happens in life,” she said.

Since her last Olympic Games in 2014—where she won silver as part of the women’s bobsled team—Williams put her University of Miami finance degree to work and launched Worth Winning, a financial coaching and planning service. She even gave college students a few pointers on getting an early start to what she called the “big bad ‘B’ word”: budget.

“The key thing is learning how to manage $1,000 well so that when you have $10,000 coming in, you can also manage it well,” Williams said. “We have to lay the groundwork when we have a little, so that it’s easy when we have a lot.” 

Co-moderator Atherley said she particularly admires Williams’ multifaceted nature as both a successful athlete and working professional.

“She can internalize what she learned from athletics and then translate it into the professional world,” said Atherley. “I think that’s something quite difficult for student-athletes to do because your athletics become your identity. She shares that experience in such a fluid and relatable way.”

Williams encouraged college athletes to take time outside of their practice schedules to get involved and find other things they’re passionate about. Besides her track-star status, Williams was involved in the Homecoming Executive Committee during her time at the University.

“[College] is the time where you get to try things. Don’t just think you can only do one thing,” Williams said. “Something I wish I would’ve done a little differently during my pro career is realize that I’m more than an athlete. Sports is going to end for a large percentage, and it’s not going to go beyond college. So, you’re going to have to decide who you are beyond this thing.” 

At the end of the hour-long discussion, Williams shared one final message with the University community: Lead with love.

“There’s so much divisiveness happening in the world. We need to respect and love one another despite how different we are or what our different opinions are. Now more than ever, unity and love are the things that we all need to be putting at the forefront of our value system,” she said as she threw up a “U.”