Fort Worth Convention and visitors Bureau Blog

Judy Bernas: Woman Worth Meeting

An NCAA public service campaign emphasizes that student athletes overwhelmingly “go pro in something other than sports,” with the implication that their playing experiences help them in their jobs after they’ve hung up their high tops, skates, or cleats. Judy Bernas works for an NCAA member institution in a non-athletic capacity and feels the games she played growing up have influenced her career. “Sports has so many lessons for all of us -- how to be gracious winners, even more gracious losers, discipline, consistency, commitment, and most importantly, teamwork. The lessons from sports are used in my professional life every day,” said Bernas, who currently serves as the associate dean and chief strategy and communication officer for the TCU School of Medicine in Fort Worth. “I played softball, volleyball and lots of golf,” she said of her sporting activities growing up. Her father was the driving force in her development. “An entrepreneur who started his own company, he was my softball coach. He loved to play golf and taught me how to play. We actually both had holes-in-one on the exact same hole (many years apart) at Encanto Golf Course in Phoenix, AZ. He was a New Yorker by birth and followed football, basketball, and golf religiously. He taught us the importance of putting effort into what you are doing and to shooting for the stars – ‘if you don't do it, someone else will,’” she said. “When I play golf and make a terrible putt, I can still hear him saying, ‘C'mon Judy. Make it count!’” She’s used what her dad taught her for more than just inspiration. “Golf has been important professionally as a way to connect with colleagues and associates. And a little competition never gets in the way of a great partnership!” Judy’s lifelong love of sports did, in fact, lead her to professional opportunities in the industry. “I have served on the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority and currently serve on the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors, where I am Chair-elect…

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Elizabeth Northern: Woman Worth Meeting

Becoming an elite athlete takes more than talent. Elizabeth Northern knows all about that. The Fort Worth runner danced and ran for fun as a child, and actually discovered her true talent level relatively late in life. “My dad ran cross country in high school,” she said of her roots in running. “And so I'd been running with my dad, and then my mom and I would do Race For The Cure each year. I've done (the) Cowtown (10-kilometer race) since I was in third grade. It's always been a part of my family, just something that we did together. And then in high school, when I did cross country, it was for fun. I had a bunch of friends that were doing it. And so it just kind of was more for social things. And I wasn't very good. Like I was decent, but I was not, like, recruitable. Elizabeth was a member of the cross country team at Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School her junior and senior years. She then matriculated to Trinity University in San Antonio with no intention of pursuing further formal competition until a fortuitously-timed trot around the school’s grounds. “It was during freshman orientation. I was just kind of jogging around campus and ended up on the track and the cross country team was there. And they kind of hollered at me. And they're like, ‘Do you want to run cross country?’ And next thing I knew I was on the team,” she explained about how the day progressed. “I was in the gym and getting all my physical stuff checked out, and I got a uniform, and then I was racing, like, two weeks later.” She quickly found success at the non-scholarship Division III school under the Tigers’ then-head coach Jenny Breuer. “I walked onto the cross country and track teams at Trinity,” Elizabeth said. “Coach B noticed pretty early on that I was really good at long runs, like, that was where I excelled and so she knew, even from the first couple of months, she was like, ‘You're gonna do the 10K in track.’ (I was) like, ‘What? I don't know if I want to do that.’ But sure enough, my best event in college was the 10K. And since then I've just gone longer.” She ran in the 2006 and 2008 NCAA D-III national cross country meets and helped the Tigers’ squad to a best-ever sixth-place national finish in 2008. In 2009, she won the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference 10,000 meters and competed in the 2009 NCAA D-III 10 km national track and field championships. Shortly after graduation, after having moved back to Fort Worth, she returned to San Antonio to try running a marathon. “My best friend from college wanted to do one. So we did it together. That's literally the only reason why we did it, because the only reason why I did it was because she was doing it.” Elizabeth had not trained for run of that distance before. To complete a marathon, one must traverse 26.2 miles. “I did not do a long run longer than 16 miles (in training) and so that first marathon was a lot of crying. I mean, I still ran a fantastic time considering how bad it felt but I didn't do another marathon for two years. I was like ‘Never again, I'm never doing this again.’ And then I've done like 15 more.” She did some half marathons before trying another full one in 2012. It proved her breakthrough. “In 2012, I had signed up to do the New York City Marathon that year, and that was the year of Superstorm Sandy. And the race was canceled. We were in New York City when it got canceled.” She managed to get into a race scheduled for the follow weekend, ironically in the Alamo City. “I said I'd never do it again. Then two years later, I did the exact same race. And I cried, and by far my worst marathon ever was that one in 2012, because it was, like, 80 degrees.” She fought through oppressive humidity to finish the race and realized she could potentially have success at longer distances. “I decided to, like, really, really, really train for (the) Cowtown (Marathon the) next February,” she said. “That Cowtown has pretty much launched my whole next trajectory because I just ran my heart out and I ran a 2:46 there and shattered all their records.”  …

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LaDondra Wilson: Woman Worth Meeting

“Title IX has provided a vehicle for equity for women to engage in sports and embrace their talents and skills beyond traditional roles. It is indicative of how equity provides opportunities, which gives space for the impossible to occur,” explained LaDondra R. Wilson. She serves as Vice President of Social Responsibility for both the Dallas Wings and Panther City Lacrosse Club and as executive director of the teams’ community foundations. Participants in sports can realize many benefits beyond a court or field. The athletic opportunities provided to women thanks to Title IX legislation have helped them prove that to be true regardless of gender. Wilson’s current job involves using sport to benefit the wider community in multiple ways. Both team foundations she oversees look to use their platforms to promote causes like health and wellness, education, and social justice, with the WNBA’s Wings having a particular focus on women and girls. The law’s 50 th anniversary falls within the basketball team’s season and with many of their players and employees having benefitted from it, they’ll commemorate the day accordingly. “We actually play on the actual anniversary of Title IX on June 23,” she pointed out. “Through our content capture day, we've had (Wings players) share their personal reflections of Title IX and we've asked our opponents (the Indiana Fever) to do the same, and so during our game, you will see a video of from our players’ and our opponents’ perspectives of how it impacted their lives.” In addition to the video, LaDondra and her Wings colleagues will weave other Title IX-based content into the game presentation. She hopes their efforts help girls in attendance to appreciate the day. LaDondra got started on her own sports path in her youth. “In middle school, I briefly played soccer as a forward. My uncle (forward Jimmy Wilson) played professionally for the Dallas Tornado, I assumed I received the soccer gene. Unfortunately, I did not,” she explained. “I also briefly ran track and was a cheerleader in grade school.” Even limited time on playing fields paid dividends in her career development, as it has for many athletes. “While my athletic career was short-lived, I always enjoyed being a part of a team and it has contributed to my ability to be an effective team member professionally.” Just as Title IX opened doors for women, LaDondra’s professional endeavors, through organizations like GRACE Grapevine, the Housing Crisis Center, and the Dallas Regional Chamber, have involved expanding opportunities for a number of underserved populations. “I am a social worker by trade. Much of my career has been in the non-profit space addressing social issues and serving marginalized communities. I am passionate about promoting equity and inclusion in spaces where they do not exist historically. As a proud product of South Oak Cliff, a community where disparities are prominent and opportunities are limited, it has fueled my ambition and determination to be a change agent and perpetual voice for those that have been silenced by their situation or environment. My role allows me to facilitate difficult conversations with intentions to promote generational positive impact.”…

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Kim Johnson: Woman Worth Meeting

In March, Kim Johnson of TCU’s athletic department worked with the Fort Worth Sports Commission to stage NCAA 1st and 2nd Round basketball competition in the city newest sports facility. “My hope and my goal was, ‘How can we put everybody together and give them what they need for it to be one huge success?’ And I think the local organizing committee, and my co-chair (Katie Douglass), I think we were able to do that successfully,” explained the host committee co-chair. “I think everyone will want to come back to Dickies (Arena).” As Kim has done her part to ensure Fort Worthians have the opportunity to again watch top-level men’s collegiate basketball here in the future, she has also worked to bring the populace new women’s sports to enjoy. The Horned Frogs’ Senior Associate Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator has played a key role in establishing the school’s new beach volleyball and triathlon programs. In doing so, she and her colleagues studied both campus and community. “We were strategic. What fits our community? This is a running community, right? This is a biking community. Triathlon is the newest, emerging sport,” she said. Of course, before a program gets to the point of selecting which specific sports to implement, Kim pointed out that its leadership has to believe in the potential and ambition of female athletes in the first place. “Women want to compete. How do we create a platform? Then how do we create the opportunity? Do we invest in that? Do we take women seriously?” Kim developed her own love of sports because her family took athletic competition seriously. “It was the biggest source of entertainment for my family. We watched sports year-round. I grew to love all sports,” she remembered. “My father was an Alabama fan, and therefore I am, and we watched Alabama football and any college football and any professional football. We watched NBA basketball. And we watched the Atlanta Braves. So it was constant.” She played sports recreationally and wrote about them for her high school newspaper. Kim experienced family tragedy when both her parents died during her teen years. She persevered, however, and traveled from her native Alabama to Evanston, Illinois to attend Northwestern University. She faced a challenging route to completing her degree at the academically rigorous Big Ten institution, but that path would play a vital role shaping her future career. “My experience as a student was non-traditional. I worked in the athletic department so that I could pay for college. I went to school at night. I worked during the day and got a huge tuition benefit.” Kim just needed a job opportunity and hadn’t planned for it to come working as an administrative assistant for then-Athletic Director Rick Taylor. Once she got the gig, however, it created opportunities well beyond just paying her tuition in the short term. “It took me six and a half years, I think, to finish, but what an internship. And I decided that ‘This is the career I want to pursue. ‘This is what I want to do.’ And the athletic director said to me, ‘As soon as you graduate, I will promote you into any full-time position that is available, because you can do them all,’” she said of her realization that one could make a career of helping athletes succeed. “Growing up as a child watching college football, I never thought about what was happening behind the scenes to make that day happen. When I started working for the athletic director, I began to learn all the things that happen behind-the-scenes to produce that event. And I was then introduced to sports at Northwestern like field hockey. Never heard of field hockey. What field hockey? Fencing? I'd always played softball, but I'd never gone to a collegiate softball game. Loved it. So it just opened my eyes to the opportunities that existed for men and women who want to get an education, but also elite athletes getting the training to be the best in their sports and supporting them behind the scenes. I saw all the support that they got and I wanted to be part of that.”…

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Kari Crowe Seher: Woman Worth Meeting

If you visited Kari Crowe Seher’s office, you might notice a family gift on display. “My sister bought this giant yellow flag that has a smiley face,” Kari explained. She’s the founder and owner of MELT ice creams, an industry whose purpose basically revolves around the ethos of a smiley face – as MELT’s website proclaims, “We serve happy ice cream.” The flag actually came into Kari’s possession through her other passion – running in really long races. “The first 100-mile race I ran in Leadville (Colorado), I had a huge support crew of people from Fort Worth and family members,” she said of the event that inspired her sibling to acquire the flag. “It became like the race flag. At every race, we take it with us and somebody on my crew holds up this giant yellow flag when I'm running in. But the rest of the year, it hangs in our office. And so it's this giant yellow ice cream flag.” The wall hanging serves as more than decoration for her. “For me, the symbology is like it reminds me of like how hard I might have felt that race was or how challenging or how difficult the terrain changes, but also how beautiful it was. And it's like this iteration of business. It goes through these ups and downs and good times and hard times. At the end of the day, it's this happy, beautiful thing.” Kari has a big-time sweet tooth and has always loved ice cream. She came to running a little later in life. Her first sporting achievements of note came via the beautiful game. “I dreamed of playing soccer on a collegiate level. Growing up in a small town, I knew that I didn't have the advanced opportunities of club teams in major cities and I'd have to work twice as hard to make it,” she said. “Signing with a team my senior year of high school was an absolute dream come true.” She played for Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina and Dallas Baptist University, then felt the need to find a new athletic outlet. “A lot of people when they graduate from college, they're a little lost. They've had somebody give them a regimented schedule of workouts their entire collegiate career, their entire high school career, everything leading up to that. They've had regimented workouts. And so after college, I was a little, like, ‘What do I do with myself? What do I do with my time?’ And I immediately started training for a marathon and ran on and off for several years. And then when I opened and established my business, I kind of jumped back into that world of running and found trail running and just fell in love with trail running. And I fell in love with the escape that it was from business, the mental escape that it was, and the mental therapy that it is,” she said. Marathons cover 26.2 miles, but Kari has pushed herself well beyond that threshold by moving into the longer-distance races known as ultramarathons. She came to them by accident. “I asked my running partner, what race he was doing next, and I just signed up for it. And I didn't know anything about it and immediately had to hire a coach so that I could learn how to run for that distance.” She went from a 62-miler to now doing 100-mile treks. Each year, Kari chooses a different mountain race to train for. She’s currently preparing for a 100-mile race in Colorado. “I just don't train as well if I don't have something on my schedule and I'm not headed towards a big goal. And so the accountability of having a goal on my schedule just gives me just a regimen to follow. It gives me discipline to lean back on.” Massive trail runs require more than the discipline to train for them. One has to have a certain bold spirit, too. “If you're in the middle of 100-mile mountain race, it can be pretty dangerous,” she said. “It feels adventurous and kind of rugged and wild.” Sometimes one pays a price for exploring new challenges. “We roadtripped out to the Grand Canyon. We camped out there. I invited a big group of friends a few months before to train for it. None of us really knew what we were doing,” she said. “We ran down the Grand Canyon, across the Grand Canyon, up the North Rim, and then we turned around and did it all again. I didn't have the best experience. I was trying to hit a certain time and I got extremely ill. I had a really hard time. I couldn't keep down water or food and so I had a pretty miserable experience.” One subpar trip didn’t keep her from returning to the desert. “I went back and did it the following year and had a much better experience. It was incredible. It was life-changing.”…

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JJ Grissom: Woman Worth Meeting

Most athletes have heroes who inspire them to participate in sports as they’re starting out. Fort Worth Bike Sharing executive director Jennifer “JJ” Grissom was no different. OK, maybe she was a little different – the woman she admired came from the planet Eternia. “I wanted to be She-Ra so badly! She was the first assertive female figure I remember recognizing,” JJ told us via email. Luckily, she also had real-life role models. “My parents were the most inspiring figures. They were so good about teaching me to figure out how to do something. We weren't a particularly sports-focused household, but there was never anything we couldn't try.” That spirit of encouragement and experimentation eventually led JJ to find a sport that fit her. “I tried a few different sports in middle school and found out pretty quickly that hand/eye coordination wasn't a strength of mine. But I loved being active, so my mom signed me up for a summer swim team. I loved it almost immediately and continued swimming through high school.” JJ has gone on to participate extensively in endurance sports. One defining experience came when she overcame her own uncertainties to finish a Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim excursion across the hemisphere’s largest canyon. “It was overcoming that, like, ‘I'm going to die.’ I'm running into the pitch black dark of the Grand Canyon. I don't know if there's rattlesnakes, I don't know if I'm going to fall off the edge,” JJ remembered about running from one rim of the canyon to the other and back. “It was just so, like, ‘I did this,’ and my daughter was there. She was 17 at the time and it was kind of like a really cool bonding experience. Your whole life, you're supporting your kid, and she was really there to support me. So that was pretty amazing. I really think it was like finding whatever it was in myself that was like, ‘I'm terrified to do this, but I still want to do it.’” Her sporting endeavors have yielded benefits that go beyond staying fit. “The lessons you learn while training for and completing something like an Ironman or R2R2R are so plentiful, it's almost hard to describe it all,” she explained. “It's not only about the event day itself, though that is the best part, for sure. It's the patience that comes through training, the learning what is a priority and how much you can manage, and practicing staying calm when things don't go as expected. Those lessons absolutely transfer into my everyday life.” That everyday life includes athletic exploration. “I like to say I participate in adventure sports of all kinds. My current obsession is gravel riding and I rarely go more than a day between runs. I still love to open-water swim and I am always down for a good yoga class. I have a long list of other sports to try - rowing, surfing, kickboxing.” She’s also actively engaged in helping Fort Worthians participate in the sport of cycling. Using Bcycle’s equipment and app, residents and visitors alike can check out a bicycle from stations located across the city, ride them, and return the bike to any station with an open dock. They’re designed to be an easily-accessible, environment-friendly resource for recreation, exercise, and commuting. Since JJ started, she and her staff have increased the system size by some 60 percent. She hopes to help more people of all genders and backgrounds be able to pursue fitness and sports the way she has. “We see people - I see people personally when I'm out there on the trail - who use our bikes as part of their exercise routines. So maybe they ride from a station close to their house down to the trail, and then maybe do a workout on the trail or join a CrossFit group, and then they can ride back as part of their cooldown. So I love that.” Fort Worth Bike Sharing created a survey to gather information about how, why, and where residents and visitors might want to use the service…

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Kris Canfield: Woman Worth Meeting

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation that opened collegiate sporting doors to women, we remember that one of the reasons it was needed was that many felt female athletes couldn’t handle the rigors of competitive sport. “Title IX has not only allowed women to have similar opportunities as men, in sports, but it also highlighted the disparity in women having ability to perform and push their bodies to high level of achievement and competition,” Kris Canfield told us via email. “Highlighting the disparity was the first step. Offering equal opportunities for both genders is the second step, and the final step is equality across the board, which I believe we are still striving towards, but we aren't there yet. It takes all of us now to stand up and help break down those barriers for the younger generation.” Canfield herself has shown that women not only can handle a demanding athletic workload, such pursuits can help them thrive. “Growing up I played basketball, softball, and track. I started learning more about soccer, but my school did not have the sport, so my parents sent me to a summer camp to learn the basics and I would practice fundamentals and technique at home, in between other sports,” she said of a youth spent developing the skills that allowed her to play two sports at Mid-America Christian University. “My dual collegiate sports, it was crazy. Soccer was in the fall and softball was in the spring, so my only downtime was December, but it helped pay for my college; taught me time management; and how to organize my schedule and tasks to get schoolwork done, meet the physical demands and fitness tests, and have a social life.” Sports also provided a model for Kris to become one of the people who helps break down barriers for female competitors. “My inspiration growing up was Reggie White with the Green Bay Packers. He was a quiet beast on the field, but was kind and served others. He was the first athlete I watched on TV where I realized you could be competitive during your sport, but gentle and kind off the field.”  …

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Katie Douglass: Woman Worth Meeting

Katie Douglass Gilligan: Woman Worth Meeting Fort Worth Sports has created a series of blog posts in conjunction with the 50th year of Title IX. Each article will profile a woman who has made substantial contributions to the vibrant Fort Worth sports scene. As the Executive Vice President of…

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NASCAR Brings Star Power To Fort Worth

The NASCAR All-Star Race weekend coming up May 20-22 brings racing, music, and more to Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway. The top Cup Series drivers compete in a special race format and TMS has filled the weekend with activities to keep fans entertained when the cars are in the garages. Tickets to…

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Guide to the PBR World FInals

Many believe the rides at the PBR World Finals represent the most exciting eight seconds in sport (the riders hope it’s eight seconds - the bovine competitors prefer a shorter time frame)…

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