Working in a male dominant field can be a challenge on its own but Jennifer is showing the world how her experience as an athlete has not only prepared her to dominate effortlessly but also do so while pursuing her dream to compete in Tokyo 2021 Olympics!
Sport: Track & Field (Team Haiti)
Education: University of Miami '13
Career: Assistant Project Manager & Associate of Construction, Miami World Center Development
As a black woman in a male dominant field, how have your experiences influenced how you navigate this space?
Over the years, I’ve found myself the lone “she-wolf” in many different conference rooms and now virtual calls. Despite the growing pains I’ve encountered, it’s been an encouraging challenge for me personally. I am constantly working to be my best version—patient, strong-willed, and attentive to others around me. I have chosen to address things early (or after the initial shock of “did I really just hear that” settles). Packaged with a lot of intentional listening, and frankness about where I stand on things—project related and unrelated topics. In my experience, this has warranted colleagues to feel at ease to approach and inquiry about hard topics and/or meanings behind culture relevant phrases, references or events. Although I realize this is not my job, this is often a part of the way I choose to disarm those around me from stigmas/stereotypes they may carry unconsciously & innately. Allowing room for dialogue that people may not be exposed to in their other circles.
Most importantly, I’ve realized It’s important to address items when being spoken directly to, and sometimes even when you are not. Continuing to learn when to speak up is crucial to navigating a world that may be uneasy or distracted with my presence in a room.
At what point did you realize you needed to balance both your athletic career with other aspirations? What active steps did you take to do so?
Honestly, I’ve always balanced both. In college I endured rigorous hours to meet the School of Architecture's deadlines while practicing & traveling. Back then it was about mastering time management, not giving up, and becoming more disciplined with keeping balance on and off the track.
As a professional, I’ve learned open communication with my industry supervisors & team is the best active step. Loop them in on what it takes to manage the double life, and schedule adjustments that will be forthcoming.
A few years back after college, I was only wearing the professional hat & working but started considering returning to the sport and wanted to come back to competition. I prayed on it, spoke to a mentor & few close friends and they encouraged me to go for it. Similar to my projects, I gave myself a deadline & made a schedule. I started to get back into shape, and found a coach.
Additionally, I communicated to my hiring employer that I was a few months from fully returning to the sports, and asked if he would be willing to work with me. He had accepted this as part of terms of me joining the team, and we adjusted my work schedule accordingly when the time came for fall training to start. Thankfully, It all worked out in my favor, and I re-committed to my Track and Field quest for an Olympic bid.
What is the most challenging part of being both an athlete and professional? How have you managed to successfully balance the two?
Time is the biggest challenge—there isn’t enough of it! I have to schedule it ALL and be tedious about my time, while keeping a healthy balance and boundaries. I always remind myself “be where my feet are”; if I’m at practice, my mind and body are at practice and if I’m in the office, my mind and body are in the office. Yes some days this is easier said than done, and I can’t avoid the overlap. However, I keep an ongoing to do list and I do my best to keep boundaries about when I need go ‘offline’ so I have enough time for practice etc. This is my current reality so I make it work and I am vocal to my team—my team on and off the field. Colleagues know my cut off times for meetings in order to leave the office/home in time to make my weekly chiropractor appointment, or practice and my coach knows when it’s time for my quarterly meetings.
Let’s talk money! Coming from a sport that doesn’t make much, how have you been able to leverage those experiences to demand your worth in your career?
Know your worth.
Know when to ask for help.
Learn how to ask for help.
Learn when to change things up to work towards achieving your worth.
You are worth as much as you market you are worth. See yourself for how much you will be worth day after you achieve your biggest goal & make a plan that backs into that.
As a professional don’t be afraid to ask for the raise. "Work ethic will speak for itself" is not real—ASK! Worst thing they’ll say is NO, which really means not right now.
As a professional athlete, I had to take it to another level and sort out how to financially balance both and that was a challenge. Especially coming from a sport like Track and Field where the ‘broke’ pro athlete life is a real thing! So many expenses and limited sponsorships. I created a tailored plan, and really went grassroots with my campaign to connect with my community, support groups, and networks. I realized if I didn’t use the networks I had acquired over the years to help spread my story and raise support, it would end before it started. You cannot qualify to make it to the Olympic Games if you cannot afford to make it to your regular season meets. For me, raising support included starting a nonprofit organization (Grind4god inc) to assist aspiring athletes like myself connect with sponsors to raise support, running a gofundme campaign as needed and connecting with various brands for ambassador opportunities in exchange for discounts and supply of products. Knowing my industry and knowing my sport has helped navigate and self manage as needed over the years.
Nonetheless, sometimes things don’t add up. I had a unique season where I walked away from the Track & Field Pro life for a year and a half or so. It was strategic to think and process what to do next; in hopes of finding more financial stability/support to sustain both track & field and my personal life. I recall pondering whether it was worth continuing. Eventually, I chose a new career path, jumping into Development and slightly shifted away from Architecture. This met similar industry, but a very different hat and it turned out to be best leap of faith to date. I am balancing being a Project Manager and pro athlete as I prep for Tokyo 2021 for Team Haiti and with more financial stability.
My value and worth due to my experience as professional athlete speaks volumes for what I am able to balance as a career professional and vise versa.
Any advice for aspiring athletes and professionals?
Pursue your passion, find your purpose. Which in my real world experience translates to:
If you need to walk away, it may bring clarity to help you determine if your sport still sets your soul on fire 🔥 enough to take you back to reach championship level.
Your career can be your craft(s) & experiences merged into one. Be innovative in how you merge them, patient with syncing them, and persistent yet protective on how you move to achieve them. Find your matching niche, if it doesn’t exist create it.