Girls in the Game staff member Earns ATHENA Young Professional Award
This is the commitment statement Jenn Gibbons, 24, started her coaching career with four years ago. It’s been taped to her bedroom wall ever since. “It’s something I strive for every day,” says Gibbons, founder of Recovery on Water (ROW) and Girls in the Game staff member since December 2008.
Waking up at 5am is a feat in and of itself for any college freshman, but one that this year’s recipient of the 2009 ATHENA Young Professional Award accomplished with ease. “I learned to row as a freshman at Michigan State University. Rowing taught me who I was, who I wasn’t, and who I wanted to be. As a part of a team, I learned the importance of being a committed and consistent team member,” says Gibbons. “I gave rowing everything—and it gave me so much more in return.”
Jenn started Recovery on Water less than two years ago, in January of 2008. Recovery on Water is a rowing team that gives survivors of breast cancer the unique opportunity to interact, become active in their recovery and gain support from fellow survivors. The team consists of more than 25 women in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. They strive to see each other succeed—in rowing, in life, in their bodies, and what they all have in common- their battle over cancer recurrence.
“It has truly been the most rewarding experience of my life,” she shares with a glowing grin. “As a rowing coach, I’ve learned that you have to make confident decisions. That people look to you and rely on you for guidance and direction.” And she has proven that she is more than capable of stepping up as a leader.
“When someone new joins our team, they welcome that person with open arms. It is a support group—but the women will be the first to tell you that they are a rowing team,” says Jenn. “They support one another with a common goal –to take their health and their recovery into their own hands. That’s where great leadership begins. You have to value what you can bring, and encourage others to bring it all.”
Not only is Jenn leading the women of ROW, but she sets a remarkable leadership example for both staff and participating girls as the Special Events Coordinator at Girls in the Game. “Jenn jumps in to help, is not afraid to ask questions and has implemented fantastic strategies that help our special events program work better,” says Amy Skeen, Executive Director of Girls in the Game. “We are proud to have her as part of our staff and her positive spirit is energizing, even on the toughest of days.”
When Jenn talks about her work and the meaning of leadership, it is clear that not only is she a natural leader, but a perfect fit for the Girls in the Game team, inspiring other women to be the best they can be. “Being a leader doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does require you to be honest, supportive, and always willing to grow,” says Gibbons. These are the same lessons Girls in the Game incorporates into all programming. Even though she works in an administrative role, Jenn never turns down an opportunity to get in the game by guest coaching in the Game Day program. “My favorite rotation was body movement because when I saw Coach Jenn being silly and dancing to the music, I felt like I could be silly too,” says a fifth grade Game Day participant from Pottawatomie Chicago Park.
When Jenn graciously accepted the ATHENA Award last week, she said, “Women are unique and powerful leaders. They see things in others and naturally want to help them succeed. We encourage and support others to investigate their strengths—and I’m learning that it may be the best gift a leader can give their team.”
She also had many to thank for her success and who she is today, from her parents for allowing her to fearlessly go after her goals, to the women of ROW for their inspiration, and to Girls in the Game for always encouraging and supporting her. “I am so honored to be receiving this award, to have met so many amazing women through this process,” she says, “I am thankful to have become affiliated with the ATHENA Foundation and the network they provide. Thank you for the work you do, and thank you for this honor.”
To learn more about Recovery on Water, please visit: http://www.recoveryonewater.org.
View pictures from Jenn's work with Recovery on Water below: